Monday, April 11, 2011

The Spectre Haunting Egypt: Counter-Revolution

Several weeks ago, SCAF made an announcement that it was enacting curfew rules and banning protests in order to protect Egypt's revolution from a counter-revolution.  From that moment on, every Egyptian is looking for these invisible forces of counter revolution.  Every act of every individual or group is a threat.  Egyptians are running from one situation to the next to counter the counter revolution and with every new march, every crazy idea that floats through the air, they are losing their way.

A relative calm had come over Egypt, even as small protests continued.  The referendum had passed and parties were gearing up to participate as quickly as possible, but even the relatively quick pace for elections in September and presidential elections come November, the pace is not fast enough to set Egypt back on the path to relative stability.  

The people still want Mubarek's head on a platter, figuratively or literally, whatever way they can get it.  They want all of his cronies standing in the docket/gallows with him.  SCAF, even with a facebook page, is not very transparent.  They are stuck in a hard place, trying to run a country where the only people who have been running it or have the experience to manage day to day workings of the structure are either NDP or have NDP relations.  The appearance of which makes every Egyptian believe that the old regime is still in place.  Largely because it is to an extent that any technocrat with any knowledge remains at the controls.  No Egyptian accepts that there are not others that could or should be running these bureaus.  

Second, SCAF is simply not able to control every aspect of the situation.  They can barely control their own forces who have apparently not imbibed the idea that being "one hand" with the public means not using physical force against every citizen under every circumstances.  

Friday, the Jacobin wing of the revolution, angry at the laws forbidding protests that they consider now to be the epitome of their first amendment rights and angry that sixty days later Mubarek et al remains at large, went into the square and held a mock trial of Mubarek.  In the mean time, seven army officers that the media was portraying as "former" (retired? every male in Egypt is required to join accept under waiver).  went on youtube and proclaimed they had every intention of joining the revolutionaries in Tahrir.  They demanded that Tantawi step down, the regime members be put on trial and a civilian council take it's place.

Their appearance in Tahrir was all the rage and the protesters were determined to protect them.  Through out the day, with close to or above 100,000 in the square, the army stayed back.  That night the mutinying officers remained in the square, asking for protection by the protesters.  They were placed in a tent and surrounded by people.  As curfew arrived and the crowds thinned, the military police waded in ostensibly to disperse the crowds.  

Chaos ensued.  Protesters attempted to resist the MP's from coming in.  The MP's used billy clubs and fists to respond.  More protesters rushed forward.  The MP's opened fire.  It appears most of the shooting was in the air.  However, at least two were shot dead and several others were wounded by gun fire.  Most of the other injuries appear to be contusions, abrasions and broken bones.  Several of the protesting officers at the square were arrested.  One may have been killed at the site with doctor's at the local morgue reporting at least one "soldier" dead, possibly two.

The military issued a statement saying that they did not attack the protesters first, that they only shot into the air to disperse crowds and that the army was using rubber bullets.  Later, two groups of men were seen entering Tahrir with machine guns, also reported on twitter.  The men appear to have quickly dispersed, but no one knows who they were or what they were doing.  SCAF is suggesting that the events may have been perpetrated by three men associated with Ibrahim Kamel who was alleged to be responsible for the January 28 "camel attack".

The military may be telling the truth that they did not shoot directly at the protesters, but shooting into the air is just as dangerous as shooting at people.  Bullets go up, must come down.  In ME countries, there are untold numbers of people who die or are injured (head and upper body wounds) from this phenomenon.  A video circulated purporting to show one person being shot or killed.  They were a considerable distance from the main area.  

In the background, machine gun fire was heard constantly and repetitively.  With that amount of fire, if they were aiming directly at protesters, there should have been more GSW (gun shot wound) than the eight others reported. That doesn't mean that one or two soldiers did not aim directly at some of the crowd.  Fear can over ride discipline when confronted with an angry mob.  

The military said that it used rubber bullets.  That seems not to be the case.  Or, at least, not everybody was shooting rubber bullets.  It is possible for even rubber bullets to cause penetrating wounds at close range.  That would not account for the man shot at a distance.  Whatever the issues, it is clear that someone is not telling the truth.  Whether that is the officers in charge of the raid who were not truthful in their reports to the command chain or SCAF trying to save face after making a serious miscalculation.  The last possibility is that there were two or more men in civilian clothes with machine guns, as reported on twitter and as suggested by the military who opened fire on the crowd to stir unrest and insurrection.

The problem comes down to the protesting military officers, whether former or current.  They were not just calling for the regime remains to be arrested or removed.  They were insisting that Tantawi had to go in order to speed up the process and put a civilian council in charge.  

As one Egypt watcher noted via Facebook, this was a challenge that the military was guaranteed not to ignore.  Nasser came to power in 1952 after the the Free Officers Movement had deposed King Farouq.  He and several officers forced Gen. Naquib to step down and Nasser took control.  Tantawi is definitely old enough to have been in the military or to simply recalled.  The officers in the square were obviously attempting to incite mutiny within the army.  The protesters either didn't care or didn't realize how serious that event would be.  

In the midst of this event, a small group of approximately 1,000 protesters marched to the Israeli embassy and demanded that their flag be removed and the ambassador expelled.  The military arrived and surrounded the embassy, keeping the protesters back.  The Israeli's lowered their flag, but the ambassador and his staff remained.  

These two events split the revolutionaries who were busily tweeting demands as well as accusations.  

Then came Mubarek's slow, but insistent speech Sunday morning.  Reminiscent of Nixon's famous "I am not a crook" speech, Mubarek insisted that he and his family did not have assets outside of Egypt and that he had to respond to the accusations damaging their reputation.  Almost instantly, the messages began to reflect the one unifying theme that had brought the different parties into Tahrir Square on January 25: Mubarek must go.  

Within an hour, Egypt's Attorney General issued a demand that the Interior Ministry arrest Mubarek and members of his family.  Two other requests for arrests quickly followed and were carried out.  Aside from Ibrahim Kamel, three "big fish" received summons to appear for "interrogations" on Tuesday April 12.  These include:

[Safwat] El-Sherif is widely considered to have been Mubarak’s top enforcer in corrupting the nation's political life. When Mubarak took office on 14 October, 1981 one of his first decisions was to appoint El-Sherif as minister of information. 
In 2004 El-Sherif was promoted to chairman of the high consultative committee of the Upper House, which made him by default the chairman of the influential Political Parties Committee and the Supreme Press Council – two watchdogs in charge of licensing political parties and appointing chief editors and board chairmen of state-owned press organisations.
That wasn’t enough for El-Sherif, though. In 2002 he was appointed secretary-general of Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), becoming the leader of the regime’s machine...

Like El-Sherif, [Fathi] Sorour is accused of using his postion as Speaker of Egypt’s Parliament for 20 years for personal gain. Sorour, 79, is also thought to have amassed a large portfolio of prime real estate, villas, and apartments. The IGO is currently investigating his wealth and he is expected to be summoned soon to face charges.
Sorour, however, faces a plethora of charges of political corruption. A case in point is that he exploited his job to help certain cabinet ministers fend off embarrassing criticism in Parliament. One of these is Ibrahim Soliman, a former minister of housing, whom opposition MPs held responsible for misappropriating public funds by selling large plots of land to NDP crony businessmen and construction magnates at below market prices and offering Sorour and other heavyweight officials a number of luxurious villas in Marina resort.

On 7 April, Zakaria Azmi, 73, was put into custody for 15 days pending investigation of charges of illegal profiteering levelled against him. Azmi is widely believed to have used a number of businessmen as “henchmen” to secure illegal gains. One of these is Mamdouh Ismail, a business tycoon whom Azmi helped to monopolise maritime passenger transport between Egypt and Saudi Arabia across the Red Sea. In 2006 Azmi is thought to have helped Ismail escape Egypt after one of his ships – Al-Salam 98 – sank into the Red Sea drowning more than 1300 Egyptians.
Azmi is Mubarak’s closest confidante, having a wealth of information about his secret life and business deals. He was appointed Mubarak's chief of staff in 1989. His job included preparing Mubarak's daily agenda of meetings and visits.

Other details on the three men can be found here.  

In fear that the revolutionaries are serious and plan to march on to Sharm el Sheikh Monday, security around Mubarek's palace is reportedly being increased.  How this will play out to the revolutionaries is anyone's guess.

In the mean time, Tahrir has turned into Egypt's barb wire protected agora, the forum where everything is debated, even the merits of the continuing revolution, the role of the military, their actions and many others.  What may be an epitaph for this stage of the revolution:

Many simply wanted the barricades lifted and traffic to begin following normally. Others, standing near the two burned-out military vehicles, demanded that the youth use their energy to clear the square of all its rubbish and debris - especially the vehicles which had been turned into a refuse dump.
For all the looking into nooks and crannies, eye balling every act or actor as the instigator of the counter revolution, the real counter revolution will begin right under the revolution's nose:

Egypt's revolution blights 2011 tourism revenue

Food prices increase Egypt's inflation beyond expectations

Egypt's risky economy is making investors think twice

No comments: