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Confessions of a would-be Egyptian revolutionary

By Khaled Diab

Returning to Egypt for the first time since the revolution, an expat desktop rebel discovers the inspirational, the troubling and the simply bizarre.

“The next president of Egypt will be the Mahdi,” Dr Omar, who claimed to be a paediatrician who had treated injured protesters on Tahrir Square, told me. In his hand, he held up a petition calling on the government to dig up, at a precise location in a poor Cairo suburb, the Ark of the Covenant because, he claimed, it contained the Mahdi’s identity.

At first, I simply assumed that the good doctor and his not-so-merry crew, who stood on the tented central island of Tahrir Square, were using the sharp wit and humour that have been part and parcel of the revolution to mock the anti-democratic tendencies of the military junta still running the show. But after a little extra probing, it dawned on me that they were deadly serious and they expected the messianic Mahdi to return and reclaim his earthly throne by becoming president of medium-sized Egypt, rather than, say, the United States or China.

This was not quite what I had been expecting to hear on my first visit to Tahrir Square since the Egyptian revolution began in January 2011. Although when I last departed Egypt, a few short weeks before the now-legendary uprising, I was feeling pretty sick of home, and all its corruption and cronyism, with my wife and I speculating about what kind of a second homeland awaited our son. Less than a month later, I began to feel homesick. Even though I’m not into patriotism and I regard nationalism to be safe only in small doses, nonetheless, in addition to the humanist admiration for the underdog, the revolution awoke in my a certain amount of national pride and I longed to be with the protesters rewriting their history.

But I was in the wrong place at the right time, and the best I could manage was the whole-hearted support of the sympathetic spectator. Of course, I could have followed the example of some expatriated friends who, in their haste to return, almost parachuted into Tahrir. But at the time, I was temporarily on my own holding the baby, and then came our move to Jerusalem and… and… and… perhaps I simply wasn’t really a hands-on revolutionary.

May be I also felt a certain unworthiness. Sure, in my journalism I had for years harshly criticised all that I saw wrong with the Egyptian regime and society and dreamed – or wishfully fantasised, as some alleged – of a free and democratic Egypt of social and economic justice for all.

But these newspaper columns, though they could have come crashing down around my ears during one of my regular visits, also supported the ivory tower which afforded me, the expat Egyptian with a foreign passport who was working mostly for foreign outlets, relative protection. So, while I had spilt rivers of ink pontificating, intellectualising and agonising, millions of Egyptians were actually demanding their freedom, dignity and hope, and paying for it with their blood, sweat, tears and fears.

This emotional baggage could perhaps explain why I entered a futile debate with these Mahdist maniacs on the messianic margin, and even got threatened with violence by a couple of them in the process, rather than just walking away scratching my head. Then again, sometimes my mouth is just bigger and my tongue sharper than the weights and pullies that are meant to keep them under control.

Moreover, Tahrir had finally, thanks to the combined will, determination and courage of millions of protesters, lived up to the promise of its name, liberty, freedom. And so if Tahrirites were to endorse the presidential aspirations of anyone, it should be a candidate with some democratic credentials, not an unelected spiritual leader whose rule, benign or not, would be tantamount to a divine dictatorship.

Of course, the unprecedented display of people power deposing the country’s anointed pharaoh-in-chief and the unpresidented prospect of Egyptians actually choosing their own leader may have been too much for some to absorb, and a “miracle” like this is bound to awaken millennialist ideas in the quackier reaches of society.

Even in more “sensible” and “rational” quarters, some worrying signs of antidemocratic tendencies could be seen, such as the pro-stability Egyptians I came across who express support for the Vladimir Putin of Egyptian politics, the mysterious and shady Omar Suleiman, Mubarak’s right-hand man and Egypt’s chief of military intelligence, as the country’s next president because they think he’s a “real man” who can restore order to the country and, with his vast insider knowledge, manage its transition.

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Filed under Commentary Egypt Revolution Arab Spring

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"U.S. Behind Heinous Crimes of Bahraini Regime"

Finian Cunningham, Middle East & East Africa Correspondent of Global Research says the U.S. government is the root cause of problems in the protest-hit tiny Persian Gulf country of Bahrain.

"The United States government is the root of the problem. The Khalifa regime is despicable and needs to be removed if there is any democratic progress in Bahrain but the root problem is Washington," Finian Cunningham told press TV’s U.S. Desk in an exclusive interview on Saturday.

He continued, “Washington is the primary sponsor of that regime and they fund the regime with something like fifty million dollars of military aid that came through within the last few months. They gave the regime diplomatic cover, political cover.”

"I mean all the crimes that this regime is committing, the United States is well aware of it, and have been for years. They are well aware of the heinous crimes by the Khalifah regime, the repression, incarceration, torture, lethal use of force against the protesters. The American government is well aware of it and say nothing," Cunningham added

Bahrain has had peaceful anti-regime protests following the 2011 revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt that overthrew their U.S.-backed dictators.

Side Note
: This should be of NO surprise to anyone. The US has a track record of backing and working with the MOST HEINOUS regimes and dictators, and “toppling” the moderate ones - i.e., the one’s that refuse to “work” with the United States.

Also see this from 2003:  
Our Presidents New Best Friend Boils People Alive in order to further illustrate my point.

Filed under News Commentary Bahrain US Government Egypt Tunisia United States

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Hacks of Valor

Why Anonymous Is Not a Threat to National Security

Yochai Benkler

Over the past year, the U.S. government has begun to think of Anonymous, the online network phenomenon, as a threat to national security. According to The Wall Street Journal, Keith Alexander, the general in charge of the U.S. Cyber Command and the director of the National Security Agency, warned earlier this year that “the hacking group Anonymous could have the ability within the next year or two to bring about a limited power outage through a cyberattack.” His disclosure followed the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s release of several bulletins over the course of 2011 warning about Anonymous. Media coverage has often similarly framed Anonymous as a threat, likening it to a terrorist organization. Articles regularly refer to the Anonymous offshoot LulzSec as a “splinter group,” and a recent Fox News report uncritically quoted an FBI source lauding a series of arrests that would “[chop] off the head of LulzSec.”

This is the wrong approach. Seeing Anonymous primarily as a cybersecurity threat is like analyzing the breadth of the antiwar movement and 1960s counterculture by focusing only on the Weathermen. Anonymous is not an organization. It is an idea, a zeitgeist, coupled with a set of social and technical practices. Diffuse and leaderless, its driving force is “lulz” — irreverence, playfulness, and spectacle. It is also a protest movement, inspiring action both on and off the Internet, that seeks to contest the abuse of power by governments and corporations and promote transparency in politics and business. Just as the antiwar movement had its bomb-throwing radicals, online hacktivists organizing under the banner of Anonymous sometimes cross the boundaries of legitimate protest. But a fearful overreaction to Anonymous poses a greater threat to freedom of expression, creativity, and innovation than any threat posed by the disruptions themselves.

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Filed under Commentary Hacking Anonymous Internet Cybersecurity Cyberwar Wikileaks Egypt Revolution

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The labour movement and the future of democracy in Egypt

Amor Eletrebi

The actions of the Ultras and the labour movement could determine the future of revolutionary politics of Egypt.

Irvine, CA, & Cairo, Egypt - There has never been any coordination between them, but over the coming months, the actions of the Ultras and the labour movement could well determine the future of revolutionary politics in Egypt.

Both movements, with their strong working class roots, have been at the front lines of protest in Egypt in the last decade, with institutional memories of opposing unjust rulers, whether in the football stadiums or the factories, going back much further. Each played a crucial role in the 18-day uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak.

Years of experience - and often exuberance while - fighting riot police and security forces put the Ultras at the front lines of the early battles of Tahrir, and every battle since. For its part, decades of sit-ins, strikes and other acts of civil disobedience - large and small - made the labour movement a natural deus ex machina to save the revolution on that unseasonably warm day, the Wednesday before Mubarak fell, when Tahrir had lost its energy and Mubarak’s strategy of getting Egypt back to work while letting protesters stew in Midan seemed to be working.

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Filed under News Commentary Egypt Revolution Revolutionary

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Draft Law for the Nationalization of Civil Society and Transforming it into a Government Institution

Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights

Joint Press Release by 25 Human Rights Organizations

The undersigned human rights organizations declare their utter rejection of the new draft law on non-governmental organizations (NGOs), prepared by the Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs and which aims to nationalize civil society. Under this law civil society would be considered an institution of the government, and NGO staff would be regarded as civil servants. Furthermore, the new law would impose several new arbitrary restrictions aiming to terrorize civil society activists.

This draft law actually epitomizes the same philosophy of tightening the firm grip on civil society organizations in general and stifling human rights organizations in particular. The new draft law goes even further in its restrictions than all of the previous laws which have repressed civil society since the proclamation of Law No. 32 of 1964. The undersigned human rights organizations warn Parliament against the adoption of this anti-civil society draft law, which is designed to undermine the already limited margin allowed for NGO activities and imposes exorbitant fees for establishing NGOs, thereby stifling the interest of citizens in establishing or participating in the work of such groups. These undersigned organizations reaffirm their support for the draft law which they presented before the Parliament’s Human Rights Committee in January of this year.

The main features of the new draft law are:

1) The philosophy of the draft law reflects the government’s ambitions to integrate civil society organizations into the state apparatus. Hence, the law considers NGO staff to be state employees. This runs counter to the philosophy and understanding of civil society in democratic societies, in which civil society is an autonomous sector independent from state control which works freely to perform the services that the state fails to provide.

2) Based on its philosophy which lacks any professional basis or reference, the draft law regards board members of associations, NGOs, and their affiliated unions and staff as civil servants as well. This anomalous classification clashes with the concept of civil servants found in jurisprudence provisions of the Egyptian law and rulings of the Egyptian courts, in which a civil servant is defined as “any person entrusted with a function of a permanent nature in a public utility run by the State; or any person who becomes subject to public law by way of his work in a position which falls under the administrative organization of the said utility.” Hence, in order to acquire the capacity of a civil servant, a person must work in the service of a state-run public utility through direct employment. Therefore, even according to the reading of Egyptian law, associations and NGOs are subject to private law – just as are corporations - because these organizations are not public utilities run by the state. Therefore, it is illogical to consider their funds to be public funds, just as it is illogical to consider their administrators to be civil servants.

3) Based on the distorted line of thought of the crafters of the new draft law, who consider NGOs to be part of the state’s administrative structure, the said draft law allows the government to intervene in the minutest details of NGOs’ affairs (such as in the composition of a general assembly, method of convening such a general assembly, dates of its meetings, and method of membership and withdrawal of members, as well as in the composition or election of a Board of Directors, dates of board meetings, and competencies and functions of each board member - according to executive regulations - and even extending to include the government’s right to dissolve a NGO’s Board of Directors). Such powers are explicitly inconsistent with the logic of a civil society, since NGOs fundamentally arise from the will of their founders and run their affairs according to the vision of their constituent members, not that of the government.

Similarly, the draft law allows the government to request that the judiciary dissolve any association if the government deems that the association is incapable of accomplishing the objectives for which it was established.  Not only is the wording used here vague and easily distorted, but the only two parties which have the right to evaluate an association’s activities and whether or not it has accomplished its objectives are the association itself and the public which is served by the services of said association. What is truly ridiculous about this clause, however, is to think that the nation, its security, and its key interests could be endangered because an association was incapable of accomplishing its aims!

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Filed under News Egypt Press Release Human Rights Revolution NGO

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Sinai: The paradox of security

By Lina Attalah

Amid Egypt’s troubled transition, news from Sinai is emerging again, albeit in its old familiar form. Lawlessness is the story of the arid peninsula, which is home to an intricate set of historic, political, social and economic conditions that have transformed it into a frontier where the state has ceased to exist.

A series of kidnappings of foreign tourists have become currency for Bedouin to express their dissent over the detention of their fellow tribesmen. These tribesmen are either in detention following the mass arrests that occurred after the terrorist attacks between 2004 and 2006 or are facing weapons and drug charges. More recently, some Bedouin were emboldened to besiege a military base of international peacekeepers to protest the detention of their relatives. In the background, the constant attacks (as many as 13 in 2011 and early 2012 combined) on the pipelines channeling gas to Israel act like a chorus to a song of lawlessness in the peninsula. And of course, the theatrics of a group of masked armed men raising black flags inscribed with “No God but Allah” in the North Sinai city of Arish, who battled with the police for hours last July, helped further raise fears of a rise in militancy in the peninsula.

For some time, Sinai has been perceived and dealt with as a state of exception in the Agamben sense, where mundane state performance is suspended. Pockets of dissent emerging in Sinai are only understood in the context of a security failure and, subsequently, the recent wave of lawlessness is incarcerated in this same security logic.

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Filed under News Commentary Egypt Sinai Gaza Yemen Israel

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April 6: Genealogy of a Youth Movement

By Sarah Carr

Go to any protest outside Tahrir Square today and you will inevitably hear onlookers grumbling about “April 6 youths destroying the country” — even when the group has no presence at the demonstration.

The April 6 Youth Movement’s reputation doesn’t so much precede it as outstrip it. Loyalists of former President Hosni Mubarak vilify the group’s leaders as foreign-funded traitors intent on (and more to the point, capable of) using their cadres to destroy Egypt as part of a vaguely-worded plot usually involving a foreign Western power.

The group inspires the particular ire of the “I Am Sorry, Mr President” Facebook group made up of Mubarak sympathizers. It dedicates large swathes of its Facebook wall to mobilizing its members against its nemesis through a torrent of accusations and insinuations, and together the groups form a sort of Yin and Yang of Facebook activism relying on the same medium to achieve very different ends.

The group can be positioned in the landscape of emerging youth groups since the mid-2000s, which operated outside the scope of formal political parties and were at the forefront of street politics, all while without clearly articulated political propositions.

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Filed under News Commentary Youth Revolution Egypt Facebook Revolt General Strike Cairo Tahrir Square

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