Egypt’s hollowed-out society

Gamal Eid writes: On Wednesday, three judges in Cairo will decide whether to allow prosecutors to pursue their case against me and my co-defendant, the journalist and human rights advocate Hossam Bahgat, in the government’s continuing attack on nongovernmental organizations in Egypt. The case against me has centered on my role in founding the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, which aims to educate the Egyptian public about their civil and human rights.

As for Mr. Bahgat, it is widely known that his investigative reporting has rattled the government. But the case against him has focused on the activities of the organization he founded, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

We have been targeted because our groups provide critical resources to those facing human rights abuses in Egypt. We have represented victims of torture from across the spectrum: Muslim Brotherhood members, liberals, leftists, victims of arbitrary arrest and even government supporters. We have stood for the ideas that human rights belong to all, no matter their ideology, and that civil rights belong to all citizens, no matter their wealth or power. [Continue reading…]

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Sisi’s stature melting away

David Hearst writes: President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has been burning the candle at both ends. Having burned his way through Egypt’s largest political party, the Muslim Brotherhood, Sisi went on to give secular liberals who supported his coup against Mohamed Morsi the same treatment: imprisonment, torture or banishment. A significant part of Egypt’s political and intellectual elite is now in exile. He has one source of legitimacy left – the international community. This week, he’s been burning his way through that.

Sisi’s week should have started on a high – the visit of the Saudi King Salman. After all the tension between the two countries (at the time of Salman’s succession, the pro-Sisi media declared the then crown prince not fit for office) and after all the reports of money from Saudi drying up, this should have been an occasion to silence all doubters: Salman was investing $22bn in Egypt. The Egyptian presidency described Salman’s visit as “crowning the close brotherly ties between the two countries.”

Salman’s visit had been much hyped, as indeed Sisi’s visit to Britain was in November last year. Sisi expected each to be a breakthrough of its kind. And yet during his visit to London, Cameron cancelled all British flights to Egypt as a result of the downing of a Russian airliner over Sinai, sounding the death knell of the Egyptian tourist industry. A similar disaster awaited Sisi in Salman’s visit. [Continue reading…]

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UK took weeks to act on Cairo student killing concerns

Middle East Eye reports: The British foreign secretary expressed serious concerns about allegations of Egyptian security service involvement in the killing of a Cambridge University student in Cairo weeks before the UK government called for a “full and transparent” investigation into the case, Middle East Eye can reveal.

In a 24 March letter obtained exclusively by MEE, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond wrote to Prime Minister David Cameron warning that reports that Egyptian security forces were involved in the death of Giulio Regeni would be an “extremely concerning development” if proved correct.

Regeni’s battered body was found in a ditch nine days after he had gone missing on 25 January, the anniversary of the Tahrir Square revolution.

The 28-year-old was in Egypt researching labour movements – a contentious subject in the country – as part of his doctoral studies at Cambridge.

The government led by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has faced accusations that its security forces were responsible for Regeni’s torture and death. It has repeatedly denied the allegations.

Relations between Italy and Egypt have soured in recent days over the investigation. Officials from Cairo refused to hand over what Rome saw as vital evidence, including mobile phone records and CCTV footage from the night Regeni went missing.

On Friday, Italy recalled its ambassador to Egypt for consultations in protest of the lack of progress in the probe.

Two weeks earlier in his letter to the prime minister whom he addresses as “David”, Hammond writes, “My officials have followed the case of Mr Regeni closely since his disappearance”.

“The UK is aware of reports of the Egyptian security forces’ involvement in Mr Regeni’s death. If substantiated, this would be an extremely concerning development,” the Foreign Secretary added. [Continue reading…]

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Italian official warns Egypt over inquiry into Giulio Regeni’s death

The New York Times reports: The foreign minister of Italy said Tuesday that his government would take “immediate and proportional” measures against Egypt if it failed to help uncover the truth behind the death of an Italian graduate student in Cairo two months ago.

“We will stop only when we will find the truth, the real one,” Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni told Parliament, adding that he would not accept any “fabrication.”

The threat by Mr. Gentiloni came the day before a team of Egyptian investigators was scheduled to land in Rome for meetings on the case of the student, Giulio Regeni, 28, a doctoral candidate, whose brutalized body was discovered on a roadside in February in Cairo. [Continue reading…]

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Giulio Regeni murder: Egypt postpones Italy meeting as criticism mounts

GIULIO-REGENI

The Guardian reports: Egypt has postponed a meeting in Rome at which a Cairo delegation was due to hand over evidence relating to the torture and murder of the Italian researcher Giulio Regeni.

The highly anticipated meeting was scheduled for Tuesday but is now expected later this week. There is a growing perception in Italy that cracks are beginning to emerge in Egypt over how the government of President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi has handled the murder investigation.

Italy’s foreign minister, Paolo Gentiloni, will outline the government’s position on the case in a parliamentary statement on Tuesday, his ministry said.

Regeni’s body was found in a ditch off a desert road on 3 February, more than a week after the 28-year-old – a Cambridge PhD student researching labour unions in Egypt – disappeared. [Continue reading…]

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As long as there is no real democracy in the Middle East, ISIS will continue to mutate

David Hearst writes: The betting is that neither the pro-Assad coalition nor the Saudi-backed one will prevail in Syria. The likeliest outcome of a ceasefire is a Syria permanently fragmented into sectarian statelets in the way Iraq was after the US invasion.

This could be regarded as the least worst option for foreign powers meddling in Syria. Jordan, the Emirates and Egypt will have stopped this dangerous thing called regime change. Saudi will have stopped Iran and Hezbollah. Russia will have its naval base and retain a foothold in the Middle East. Assad will survive in a shrunken sectarian state. The Kurds will have their enclave in the north. America will walk away once more from the region.

There is just one loser in all this – Syria itself. Five million Syrians will become permanent exiles. Justice, self-determination, liberation from autocracy will be kicked into the long grass.

The history of the region has lessons for foreign powers. It proves that fragmentation only leads to further chaos. The region needs reconciliation, common projects and stability as never before. That will not come from creating sectarian enclaves backed by foreign powers.

The Islamic State is a distraction from the real struggle of the region, which is liberation from dictatorship and the birth of real democratic movements. IS is not a justification for the strong men. It is a product of their resistance to change. History did not start in 2011 and it won’t stop now. The revolutions of 2011 were empowered by decades of misrule. There is a reason why millions of Arab rose – peacefully at first – against their rulers and that reason still exists today.

As long as there is no real democratic solution in the Middle East, the Islamic State group will continue to mutate like a pathogen that has become antibiotic-resistant in the body politic of the Middle East. Each time it changes shape, it will become more virulent. [Continue reading…]

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Egypt’s chief corruption investigator alleges widespread government graft. He’s now under house arrest

The Wall Street Journal reports: Egyptian authorities have placed the country’s chief corruption watchdog under house arrest, his lawyer said, days after he was dismissed by the president following his allegations of widespread government graft.

A decree by President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi on Monday removed Hisham Geneina from his post as head of the government’s Central Auditing Authority. It gave no explanation for the move.

Mr. Geneina, a former police officer and judge, now has plainclothes police officers stationed outside his home, his attorney, Ali Taha, said in an interview. The police have confiscated his phone as well as those of his family and are turning away any visitors, the lawyer added. However, no formal order for his house arrest has been issued.

Mr. Taha said all this signals that Mr. Geneina will face prosecution for speaking out against corruption and moving to hold figures from Egypt’s executive, judiciary and police accountable in court for widespread graft ranging from day-to-day bribes to large-scale misappropriation of state land.

“Anyone who tries to visit him will be told by a mob of plainclothes policemen standing outside his house doors that he is not at home,” Mr. Taha said — describing the house arrest as “thuggery.” [Continue reading…]

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Leahy asked State Dept. to investigate Israel and Egypt’s human rights ‘violations’

Politico reports: Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and 10 House members have asked the Obama administration to investigate claims that the Israeli and Egyptian security forces have committed “gross violations of human rights” — allegations that if proven truei could affect U.S. military aid to the countries.

In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry dated Feb. 17, the lawmakers list several examples of suspected human rights abuses, including reports of extrajudicial killings by Israeli and Egyptian military forces, as well as forced disappearances in Egypt. The letter also points to the 2013 massacre in Egypt’s Rab’aa Square, which left nearly 1,000 people dead as the military cracked down on protesters, as worthy of examination.

Leahy’s signature is particularly noteworthy because his name is on a law that conditions U.S. military aid to countries on whether their security forces are committing abuses. [Continue reading…]

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Why it’s wrong to say that the Arab uprisings failed

Tahrir_Square

Marc Lynch writes: Conventional wisdom holds that the Arab uprisings that began in Tunisia in December 2010 failed. It’s hard to argue with such a harsh verdict. Most Arab regimes managed to survive their popular challenges through some combination of cooptation, coercion and modest reform. Egypt’s transition ended in an even harsher military regime. Yemen and Libya collapsed into state failure and regionalized wars, while Syria degenerated into a horrific war.

But simply dismissing the uprisings as a failure does not capture how fully they have transformed every dimension of the region’s politics. Today’s authoritarians are more repressive because they are less stable, more frightened and ever more incapable of sustaining their domination. With oil prices collapsing and popular discontent again spiking, it is obvious that the generational challenge of the Arab uprising is continuing to unfold. “Success or failure” is not a helpful way to understand these ongoing societal and political processes.

Instead of binary outcomes, political scientists have begun to more closely examine the new political forms and patterns, which the uprisings generated. A few months ago, the Project on Middle East Political Science convened a virtual symposium with 30 political scientists examining how the turmoil of the past five years have affected Arab politics. Those essays, many of them originally published on the Monkey Cage, are now available for open access download as an issue of POMEPS Studies. Those essays offer an ambivalent, nuanced perspective on what has and has not changed in the region since 2011 – and point to the many challenges to come.

The new politics shaped by the Arab uprising can be tracked along multiple levels of analysis, including regional international relations, regimes, states, and ideas. [Continue reading…]

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To many in the Middle East, Trump looks like their own rulers: heavy-handed, vain, and rich

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Joyce Karam writes: When Donald Trump announced his candidacy on June 16, 2015, my editors at the London-based pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat, like most Americans, shrugged it off. “This is not serious; send something very small to page eight,” I was told.

Nine months later, Trump’s rise is the story in the Middle East when it comes to the American presidential race. My work as a journalist for Al-Hayat sends me traveling frequently in the region, and when people hear I cover US politics, their first instinct has often been to ask me about Donald Trump: “Is Trump for real?” “Why is he winning?” “Is he going to be president?” and “What will happen to us if he does?”

As Trump attracts more support in America, he gets more attention in the Middle East. And there are a few reactions to Trump that I hear over and over. Almost all are negative, some are as much about the US as they are about Trump himself, and all are a revealing look at how the Middle East perceives and thinks about American politics.

Some see in Trump a reflection of their own political figures, from dictators to buffoonish and controversial entertainers. Some take him more seriously and see him, should he become president, as a nightmare for the Middle East. [Continue reading…]

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As hard times hit, Egyptians at last find fault with Sisi

Reuters reports: “Your exellency: you are not working,” television presenter Azza al-Henawy said, looking into the camera but addressing the Egyptian president. “Not one single issue has been solved since you took over.”

After years of hearing little but enthusiastic applause for Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and vilification of his enemies, the tens of millions of Egyptians who watch the country’s pugnacious talk shows are suddenly being presented with the president’s faults.

The former military chief who overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood to take power in 2013 is facing the first sustained public criticism of his rule.

State television, known for being fiercely loyal, launched an internal investigation on Wednesday into Henawy for her remarks. But her comments were hardly isolated.

After years of publicly lionizing Sisi as the savior of the nation, many of the country’s most influential figures have emerged to blame the president for an economy in crisis, an Islamist insurgency raging in the Sinai peninsula and the brutality of an unreformed police force. [Continue reading…]

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EU demands investigation into Italian student ‘assassination’ in Egypt

Middle East Eye reports: The European Parliament on Thursday passed a resolution condemning “the torture and assassination” of Italian student Giulio Regeni in Egypt, describing the killing as not being isolated but taking place in a “context of torture, death in custody and enforced disappearances”.

The resolution called for a joint and transparent investigation into Regeni’s death by both Egyptian and Italian authorities and passed with a huge majority – 588 MEPs voted for it, just 10 voted against, and 59 abstained.

Dutch MEP Marietje Schaake, who supported the resolution, told Middle East Eye that Regeni’s killing has served as a “wake-up call” to European politicians about the seriousness of the human rights situation in Egypt.

“It is sad that it took the torturing to death of a European student to act as a wake-up call for some that still needed one,” she said. “This case, along with the structural repression of Egyptians, including through torture, imprisonment and disappearances, should much more strongly guide EU policies towards Egypt.”

Regeni, 28, was a doctoral candidate at the UK’s Cambridge University, and was in Egypt researching the development of Egyptian trade unions when he disappeared on 25 January – the same day as the fifth anniversary of Egypt’s uprising that overthrew long-time leader Hosni Mubarak.

On 3 February Regeni’s body was found on a road on the outskirts of Cairo bearing the hallmarks of severe beating and torture. There has been widespread speculation that Egyptian security services – known for their torture of detainees – were involved in the killing but the government of President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi has denied this. [Continue reading…]

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Italian student killed in Egypt was tortured for days

Reuters reports: An Egyptian forensics official has told the public prosecutor’s office the autopsy he conducted on an Italian student showed he was interrogated for up to seven days before he was killed, two prosecution sources said.

The findings are the strongest indication yet that Giulio Regeni was killed by Egyptian security services because they point to interrogation methods such as burning with cigarettes in intervals over several days, which human rights groups say are the hallmark of the security services.

In the past, the Interior Ministry has rejected accusations about human rights abuses. [Continue reading…]

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The Arab world and the West: A shared destiny

Jean-Pierre Filiu discusses his book, Les Arabes, leur destin et le nôtre, which aims to shed light on struggles in the Arab World today by exploring the entwined histories of the Arab World and the West, starting with Bonaparte’s expedition to Egypt in 1798, through military expeditions and brutal colonial regimes, broken promises and diplomatic maneuvers, support for dictatorial regimes, and the discovery of oil riches. He also discusses the “Arab Enlightenment” of the 19th Century and the history of democratic struggles and social revolts in the Arab world, often repressed.

Filiu is also the author of From Deep State to Islamic State: The Arab Counter-Revolution and its Jihadi Legacy, “an invaluable contribution to understanding the murky world of the Arab security regimes.”

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Egyptian military court convicts toddler of murder

The New York Times reports: As alibis go, this one would seem to be airtight: Your honor, my client was only a year old at the time of the crime.

But it did not stop an Egyptian military court from convicting the accused, a boy now 3 ½, of killing three people, carrying guns and firebombs, blocking a road with burning tires, and trying to damage government buildings — and sentencing him to life in prison.

The verdict came last week in a mass trial of 107 people suspected of being members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, and the charges stemmed from the protests, street clashes and police crackdowns in Egypt after the military overthrow of the elected Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, in 2013. Hundreds of people were killed and thousands were jailed.

After an uproar over the conviction of the boy — Ahmed Mansour Qorani Sharara, who was never arrested — the military said that it was a case of mistaken identity, and that the authorities had actually meant to try a 16-year-old student with the same name. The teenager is on the run, the military added in a post on its official Facebook page.

But that, too, may be a mistake: Before the military statement, a police spokesman, Abu Bakr Abdel-Karim, said in a television interview that the wanted culprit was the toddler’s uncle, a 51-year-old man who has a similar name. [Continue reading…]

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