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Posts tagged ‘Egypt’

Women of Egypt Protest

From McClatchy News Report by Mohannad Sabry
24 December 2011

Egypt’s women protest despite brutal military attacks.

Several army soldiers slapped, punched and kicked Mona Seif, hitting her with wooden batons while they dragged her inside the Cabinet Building shortly after they raided Tahrir Square. Minutes earlier she had been told to leave, but she refused unless they released a child she was protecting amid the violence.

“The army officer was infuriated when I told them to release the kid,” said Seif, a 25-year-old activist who leads the No Military Trials for Civilians movement. “He ordered the soldiers to take me where they will take the child.”

A young army officer in charge of the detention room continuously cursed at the female detainees.

“I am as old as your mother; have some respect for me,” said Khadiga, a woman in her 60s who sat on the floor beside Seif.

“The officer exploded when she said that. He kept slapping her over and over until she apologized,” said Seif. “I thought they distinguished between younger and older women. They don’t.”

“It’s a planned strategy,” she said. “… They want to scare off any girl thinking of joining a protest.”

Seif was detained around the same time that footage was taken of several army soldiers stripping and brutalizing another female protester, a video watched by millions worldwide.

This week, thousands of Egyptian women protested in Tahrir Square against military generals who silently watched their soldiers lead assaults on female protesters.

The female protest came despite an apology published on the official Facebook page of the ruling military council, a failed attempt to defuse public anger that backfired.

“The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces expresses its deepest regret to the great Egyptian women after the violations committed during the latest protests. The council affirms its respect and appreciation for Egyptian women and their right to demonstrate and participate positively in political life,” said the statement.

Maha el Samadouni, a 62-year-old female protester, refused to accept any apology.

“Our traditions define women as a red line that should never be crossed,” she said. “It’s an unprecedented crime in the history of Egypt. The only way to stop this is by making an example of those who committed such a crime.”

“Women came out wearing black to mourn the dignity of Egyptian women that was killed at the hands of the military,” added Samadouni. She described the ruling military as “liars who denied any responsibility.”

Despite the shock caused by video images showing horrific assaults by soldiers on protesters, some seemed to have little sympathy for the victims.

“I am totally against violence, yet I don’t think it was right for this girl to be on the street at 3 a.m.,” said Gen. Sameh Seif el Yazal, a retired military and intelligence officer who now leads a strategic research unit.

Read entire story at Nation of Change.

Tunisia’s Revolution

From Nation of Change by Mary Elizabeth King
15 December 2011

One Year On, The Roots of Success for Tunisia’s Revolution

The news has been filled with contention over Egypt’s November elections, but far less attention is being paid to the voting in Tunisia—also recently liberated from the rule of a dictator. More than 100 political parties participated. Tunisia’s October balloting was designed to elect members of the 217-member assembly that will deliberate and draft a new constitution and form a parliament. On the scene as an international observer, former U.S. First Lady Rosalynn Carter noted, “It appears that everybody wants a good election—the politicians, the military (who are not political), the powerful trade unions, the police, the people—and everything is being done with compromise to make this happen.” Many in the Arab countries now view these elections as a prototype, and they prominently displayed the characteristics celebrated in modern political thought. Clean elections, of course, do not occur spontaneously. So how did this happen?

Tunisia’s uprising has been in the making since at least 2008, when protests began in the mining basin of Gafsa. The country’s hounded civil society was able to unite nearly the entire society in pressing for fair elections. Mohamed Bouazizi—the unemployed fruit and vegetable seller who set himself on fire in the central town of Sidi Bouzid on December 17, 2010, triggering their nonviolent revolution—was not the first aggrieved Tunisian to commit suicide by fire. Two other young people, one in coastal Monastir, on March 3, 2010, and the other in Metlaoui to the southwest, on November 20, 2010, had self-immolated themselves. French journalist Olivier Piot writes that as early as 1998 the burns unit of a major Tunis hospital did a study showing that an estimated 15.1 percent of its admissions were “suicide by fire.” The study’s authors considered these acts “extraordinarily” violent but viewed them as “a response by our country’s youth to another type of violence.” (I am indebted to Piot for sharing with me his book and English-translated article on the revolution.)

With 40 percent of the population under 25, unemployed college graduates were the first to activate themselves after Bouazizi’s death. Their efforts galvanized towns such as Thala, Sbeitla, Sidi Bouzid, Regueb, Douz and Kairouan—located in the neglected interior, as opposed to the coastal areas that had been endowed with monies to support tourism and development. With little hope for employment and no delusions, they led the revolt.

Indignation then turned into social upheaval and spread throughout the central and western regions. A 31-year old man self-immolated himself in Metlaoui on January 5, the day that 5,000 attended the interment of Bouazizi. In this mining town of 50,000, the local branch of the main union, the Tunisian General Union of Labor, well knew that 40 percent of the active population was unemployed and 75 percent of employees had been laid off in the previous 25 years. As Metlaoui heated up, the neighboring towns of Kasserine and Thala did too. Workers and Tunisia’s educated young were now in alliance. The parents and grandparents of the young soon joined them.

Early in the Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali regime, political activists began watching the extent of his clan’s corruption. As the family took over national enterprises during its 1995–2005 privatization schemes, their corruption became common knowledge. Beside unemployment, ending a culture of endemic, systemic corruption and impunity became a priority for Tunisians.

After a strike in the Tunisian city of Hawd el-Mongamy, young online organizers set up what became the Progressive Youth of Tunisia. Organizers in Egypt and Tunisia began exchanging views over Facebook. According to Piot, one in three Tunisians use the Internet. Egyptians were persuaded that Tunisians faced a more severe police state than their own because of Tunisia’s strict controls on blogging and press freedoms, but they perceived Tunisian labor unions as more powerful and independent. To Egyptians, Tunisia’s revolt was more “modern” and politically mature, because its discourse was that of educated, literate classes, who spoke the language of human rights, liberty, citizenship and democracy.

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Police repression against young demonstrators from poor areas swelled and recoiled, causing a second detonation on January 7 and 8, 2011. Tunisians burst with simmering resentment against the 150,000-strong police forces, long recognized for their arrogance, corruption and contemptuous behavior.

During Ben Ali’s 23-year rule, Tunisia’s civil-society organizations suffered severe, stifling repression. Yet they now emerged as politically important with their large networks of associations, radio stations, musical bands, clubs and human rights groups. Some claimed an apolitical identity, including Amnesty International. Others expressly came into being to oppose the Habib Bourguiba regime (1956‒1987), and then that of Ben Ali. Among these is the Tunisian League for Human Rights; founded in 1976, it is the oldest advocacy group of its kind in the Arab world.

With all political organizations dubbed the “illegal opposition” in Tunisia, the student movement—avidly organized during the 1970s and 1980s in the General Union of Tunisian Students—had gone underground years earlier. Yet the UGTT’s web of trade unions meant that local leaders were in place. These dispersed power centers, if mobilized, could represent a diverse opposition against the regime.

Ben Ali’s closing of all educational establishments on January 10 finally provoked the UGTT labor unions to react. They gave the go-ahead to locals in Sfax, Kairouan and Tozeur to organize a general strike for January 11 and 12, and in Tunis on January 14. Workers may have sparked the uprising, but as it spread to the middle classes, the nation’s academicians, bankers, doctors, lawyers and shopkeepers became engaged. This reach matched the geographic spread of the protests. Tunis, Sousse, Sfax, Gafsa, Gabès and Bizerte—the largest cities—rose up in turn, especially after the successful January 12 general strike in Sfax.

Professionals, traders, merchants and financiers came on board, many of them allied with the Bourguiba regime and with Ben Ali in his early years. The ranks grew of those who felt embittered about being pushed aside by Ben Ali’s networks, especially the Trabelsi clan of his second wife Leila.

In Sousse, a city favored by tourists, workers from the Farhat Hached hospital organized a massive protest march. They were soon joined by hotel employees. The upheaval expanded to the upper crust as, on January 8, a delegation of business executives from Sousse, Ben Ali’s base, called on the presidential palace in Carthage to ask the president to step down. On January 14, Ben Ali left Tunisia.

Even if subdued, the free-standing civil-society networks with independent leadership provided Tunisia with what Gene Sharp calls the capacity for “corporate resistance and defiance.” As I have previously written, a clear link exists between the cohesion of a nonviolent civic coalition during the years prior to a democratic transition and the depth of its self-governance in the outcome.

Read entire story at Nation of Change.

Egypt’s Virginity Testing

From Nation of Change by Vanessa Ortiz

Hidden in Egypt’s Closet: Virginity Testing as a Tactic of Repression

Women’s broad and persistent participation in the ongoing revolution in Egypt has brought a gruesome new tactic to light—virginity testing. This form of repression that specifically targets female activists and journalists peaked around March 2011, and under Egypt’s post-Mubarak military leadership, the tactic is on the rise.

Recently, the courageous Samira Ibrahim, a 25-year-old Egyptian human rights activist, has not only publicly exposed the torture she and other women were subjected to, but she is filing a legal case against the Egyptian military for sexual assault. Human Rights Watch and other human rights advocacy and defense organizations have denounced the practice of virginity testing and are helping publicize Samira’s case, including a video testimony by Samira that details her experience.

Certainly, sexual torture is not new in Egypt, and men have been subject to it. Bloggers have helped expose this form of torture for years. In June 2011, the popular writer and lecturer, Mona Eltahawy, helped bring to light the new issue of virginity testing as part of a larger strategy targeting women to discourage them from participating in protest activities. She rightly declares, “If the ‘it wasn’t about gender’ mantra is stuck on repeat so that we don’t scare the boys away, then let them remember the state screwed them too…”

Up to now, virginity testing as a tactic of repression has remained in the closet among Egyptians. In this patriarchal, conservative, and now military-run society, it is not difficult to understand how a woman’s virginity could be used as rationale to intimidate detained female activists by Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Women’s overwhelming participation during the revolution helped break open myths and traditions about gender in the Middle East. The current military regime’s understands this, and the desire to supposedly restore law and order, while keeping the country wrapped in the patriarchal cloak that has suffocated Egyptians, naturally requires a strategy to quell mass protests. Security forces naturally gravitate to repressive, coercive means. So what better way to keep half the population off the streets and under military control than to intimidate women using the threat of spotlighting the most intimate, personal of issues in a jail cell and later in a military tribunal, with the added accusation of prostitution?

General sexual harassment toward women in Egypt has existed for many years, and there are many Egyptians using tools to tackle the issue. The 2010 film 678 offers three vignettes of harassment and rape against Egyptian women, and the societal repercussions these women face after rape and after reporting such crimes. This is a problem that has multiplied in recent years, in part due to growing conservatism, in part due to a poor economy that has many unemployed, disgruntled young men idle in the street (women know how this goes no matter where they come from).

Egyptian women knew what they could face in January 2011 at Tahrir Square, and they went out in huge numbers anyway. During a recent conversation with Nada Zohdy, a program assistant at the Project on Middle East Democracy, she recounted how two weeks ago, in another wave of protests, she found herself in Tahrir very late at night. She realized at that moment that she was the only female in sight and was surprised to feel safe overall despite the massive gender imbalance in the crowd and not seeing any other women among the hundreds of people. She attributes this sense of safety to the unique, powerful spirit of solidarity that exists in the square. “The challenge now is how to replicate that kind of gender unity and respect in post-revolution Egypt,” Nada added. It seems the revolution brought out the best in Egyptians.

Read Complete Story at Nation of Change.

12,000 and Counting

Dear Gabriel,

Wow! In 48 hours, over 10,000 people from more than 100 countries signed our petition to free Egyptian activist and blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah. Alaa, whose appeal was denied today, is one of the 12,000 civilians who have stood before military tribunals since the fall of Mubarak. Let’s see if we can get one person to sign this petition for every civilian detained — 12,000 of us for 12,000 of them. Add your name here now or send this link to your friends:

https://www.accessnow.org/free-alaa

Access, along with other RightsCon speakers and attendees, has been pressuring representatives from the U.S. government and the European Parliament to demand that Egypt ends emergency rule, frees Alaa, and ceases trying civilians before military courts. By standing with all those like Alaa, our collective voice will embolden our leaders to action.

Sign the petition, share it with your friends and family through e-mail, post the petition to Facebook, and tweet the message below:

https://www.accessnow.org/free-alaa

With hope,
The Access Team

Tweet: 12K for 12K. A signatory for each civilian detained by mltry courts in Egypt. @accessnow petition to #FreeAlaa. http://bit.ly/rMf6nb

Is Obama to Blame?

Is Obama to blame or praise, as perhaps being the catalyst to many of the changes taking place across Africa and the Middle East with millions of people saying “Enough!” and wanting real change and democracy?

It was just 2 years ago that Barack Obama did what many said was impossible and became the president of the United States. He stood (and still stands) for possibility and putting hope into action. He was one of the first U.S. presidents to go to Africa and speak before thousands in Egypt and other countries about democracy, human rights and fair elections. I wonder if his energy and deep intentions may have been the tipping point that, conscious or not, lit some hearts and minds in people across the world who were dying for change for decades?

Yes, there are many other factors that have influenced and are driving Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyan’s Jordanian’s, Lebanese and others and there movements are each coming organically from their own experience, situation and need. Yes, the U.S. has often propped up, supported and turned a blind eye to dictators and governments that we felt were useful for some other purpose (or perceived advantage). And… I believe there are great changes afoot throughout the world and great opportunity to actually practice what we preach.

President Obama has not acted in a vacuum, but perhaps his message of having the audacity to hope has reached farther and deeper than we either give him credit for or realize.

Proud to be an Egyptian

One of the largest non-violent revolutions in history, in the most populist state in the Arab world and the biggest country in Africa, is transpiring before our eyes! The people of Egypt have provided an example of determination, unity, honor and courage that has opened the eyes of the world to what is possible and what must be.

Following in the footsteps of Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatmas Gandhi, the fall of the Berlin Wall, People Power in the Philippines, the revolution in Romania, the revolts in the Czech Republic and thousands in Iran and Tunisia, the Egyptian people (from all walks of life, backgrounds, religious orientations and economic circumstances) have lit a path for freedom that can not and should not ever be taken for granted or dismissed.

The coming days, weeks, months and years will provide an opportunity for the army of Egypt (which is supposed to be a force for THE PEOPLE) to stay true to their word and be a stabilizing influence for real democratic change and the installation of democratic institutions. If they don’t, there is no doubt that Egyptians will arise in mass once more (despite the cost) and demand their hard fought for revolution be implemented and respected.

Many Egyptians are once again saying they are proud to be Egyptian. In fact, what they have done makes us all proud to be human. Now is the time to support the people of Egypt and similar democratic movements throughout the world, with our actions and not just give lip service as we (our government) has done in the past.

This will be the beginning of a worldwide change that will see authoritarian dictatorships around the globe either make drastic changes in how they treat their citizens or see similar mass civil disobedience and change regardless of their personal wishes for power or control. Countries such as Iran, Myanmar, Laos, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Libya, Mozambique and China may see Egypt as a wake up call. Let us hope they wake up to allow peaceful democratic freedom and rights for their people and not to clamp down and impose further restrictions, violence and tyranny.

Thank you Egypt. You are one of the cradles of civilization. Perhaps you have now become the cradle of a new world order of peace, prosperity and freedom for all.

Specters by Radwa Ashour

My review of Specters by Radwa Ashour, for The New York Journal of Books.

If Specters were as good as its opening line “The valley was full of ghosts” it could have been intriguing, but it is not. The remaining story is a mishmash that moves from first person to third, past to present, young to old, and fiction to nonfiction. Rather than adding depth and nuance to the book, these devices distract from the flow, storyline, and telling of the tale or tales, as the case may be.

Egyptian born and American educated author Radwa Ashour begins by stating that the book is about two women born on the same day: herself and another woman she calls Shagar. Shagar’s life is summarized in the first five pages, with more details interspersed throughout.

One of the more enlivened and affecting scenes is when Shagar meets a new teacher in sixth grade, Fawzi, who tells them to “Ask and think.” He disappears suddenly, and Shagar learns from his family that he was arrested, most certainly for having such revolutionary ideas as to tell his class to question and think about what they are taught or believe. MORE

Leah and Yitzhak Dying for Peace

November fourth, 1995, an international day of mourning. After completing a speech and rally for peace the Prime Minister of Israel, Yitzhak Rabin, walks towards the car and is shot and killed by a fanatical Jew whose mind has been filled with hate and propaganda. As he takes his last breath the peace process he’s dying for goes into cardiac arrest with only a slight pulse of that vision still palpable today. The shock wave of his death was felt by none as acutely as his wife of almost fifty years, Leah Rabin. Unlike the spouses of other well-known leaders who’ve been assassinated, Mrs. Rabin did not hide away, go into seclusion or say, “It’s a private matter.” Her disbelief, raw pain and agony were witnessed and shared by millions.

In spite of the loneliness that will “never end”, Mrs. Rabin kept fighting for peace, to honor her husband and provide meaning and purpose to a world that was turned upside down. She followed her convictions and spoke out against the hate mongers and naysayers at home and abroad. (Mrs. Rabin died shortly after she and I spoke in Tel Aviv on November 12, 2000.) This is an excerpt from Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call.

Mrs. Rabin: Death doesn’t change people. It’s what your disposition is to start with and how you cope with loss in the first place. Unfortunately, we live in a country where loss of life, of children, of dear ones is almost part of our daily lives because of war. It’s how you are built in the beginning that makes you able to cope or not cope in different ways. In my case . . . in our case . . . it’s different, it’s a unique phenomena. The loss of, first of all, my husband of forty-seven years, a strong and good marriage, a wonderful father and grandfather and at the same time, a great leader.

As you face this you realize from the beginning that it is not yours alone. You have to share it. The out pour of sorrow and loss and desperation of people was so huge, so overwhelming and so unbelievable. There had never been anything like this. I can only compare it with the feeling of the people in America when President Kennedy was assassinated. He was the subject of great hope for the American people. When my husband was killed he was seventy-three years old and had been in positions of leadership throughout his life; first as a soldier, then commander, Prime Minister, Ambassador, Minister of Defense and Prime Minister again.

He had accumulated a lot of experience and was a source of trust. People trusted him. “Why do you cry over Rabin?” a six-year-old child was asked. “I believed him and I trusted him,” they replied. And you hear again and again, “I haven’t cried over anybody like I did that night and the following days.” That’s what people tell you. Maybe the murder of Princess Diana was similar with the same sense of injustice and outpouring of grief, but still she wasn’t a leader in the process of conducting a daring, courageous move for peace. He had a great following . . . though not big enough. People trusted him and believed him. They trusted him too much. This was one of the problems.

A columnist after the murder said, “We trusted him and left him alone in the open, thinking he could do it himself, that we can go to Thailand and Turkey in the summer, have a good time, leave it to him, he’ll do it without us.” This attitude turned out to prove very, very wrong. He needed the people; he needed support on the street.

If I talk about it today I still don’t understand where we were. Where was I? In front of our house on Friday afternoon when he was due to come home people would stand on the street yelling for hours. Friday afternoon is usually a very quiet time because people come home from work around two or three. It’s siesta time, the shops are closed and here’s this crowd yelling for hours. When he’d get home I’d ask, “How can you bare it? Why don’t you do something? A group should come in front of them.” But it was so below his pride to deal with it. He was so convinced that his was the way and there was no other alternative to peace. He was conducting a process that he felt had to be done and would take a toll, take a price. And he would have pulled it through.

If he weren’t murdered we would have been in a totally different position today. What was building up was an inter-relation of faith, of trust, of doing it together. Trust is the main point – trust and respect. Today there is mistrust and disrespect. How do you build a peace process with people that you disrespect and you keep telling your people not to trust?

Terror does not destroy our country. There has been IRA terror for years and years and is Great Britain destroyed?! We were threatened by the overwhelming forces of our neighbors. Egypt tried to destroy us. The combined forces of Egypt and Syria and Jordan attacked us in the sixty’s war. We have proven time and again how strong we are, how we managed to be indestructible. The Palestinians with their rifles, they are our threat? They want to build up their life, they want to build up their nation, their entity, they want peace for their children, a better tomorrow for their economy. What is this that they want to threaten us?

In my grief I turned to the people, to be there for them. Instinctively, I never asked, “What am I doing?” They needed something. You have no idea how many letters and comments I later received saying, “You helped. You gave us hope. You gave us courage.” Can you imagine? I gave them hope? I gave them courage? Who was I? How did I do it? I really don’t know. I wasn’t aware. I just felt that if people were there for Yitzhak, grieving for him and being at our house, at the memorial, at the cemetery, then someone has to be there to answer their grief. They were obviously moved deeply and I was the one who could share their grief. It was like they came for him, but they also came for me.

It was a very spontaneous reaction. In a way maybe it also helped me. Here I am sharing with so many people. When my husband was around and I had something disturbing me or troubling me I’d eventually tell him. The moment I told him I said now only half of it is mine and the other half is yours. (Laughs) Similarly, I think that talking to people makes me feel we are together in this grief.

The whole world is missing Yitzhak. In a far away little village in India they’d say, “You are from Israel? I have a friend, his name is Rabin and he was killed.” This handshake he made with Arafat really captured the world’s imagination, that there was a man who was changing the history of the Middle East.

I am trying to carry on his legacy. I don’t have to initiate anything. I lost my husband and at the same time Mt. Everest fell over me. There is no end to the demand. “Come here, come there, get an honorary doctorate, get this, get that . . .” endless . . . endless. I’m constantly traveling. Next month I’m going to Germany then to the US. Sometimes I think, “What would he have said, what would he have thought about all that I’m doing? Would it please him?” I believe it would.

I keep fighting . . . fighting for the peace and fighting for most Labor candidates. I was always supported by my husband to go out and speak, though I do a lot more of it now than ever before. I also have enormous support from my children and many, many friends in Israel and abroad. I can’t complain that I feel deserted. At the same time he is not here and I’m without him. This is it. It’s hard to imagine after fifty years . . . very hard . . . enormously hard. I hear his voice and I see him walking in the house. He’s still inbred in the house. We see him in every corner and have pictures of him everywhere. My home is where I belong, where I feel secure. I’ve kept everything that belonged to him. It’s a way of clinging to what he was all about. There are his clothes, his shoes, everything. I don’t know if I’ll go on doing that forever.

We are approaching his seventy-sixth birthday so there’s going to be a lot of activity. There are always a lot of people at his memorial. There will be a big center that will carry his name as well. It’s called The Rabin Memorial Center for Research. It will not become a white elephant. It will house a museum, library, archives and research, all that was done after his murder. People are and have written poems, stories and music about and for Yitzhak. On the twenty-seventh of April there will be a requiem performed in his honor. It never ends really . . . never ends.

I have no regrets, none whatsoever. I feel blessed and privileged with a life full of purpose. Yitzhak’s plate was always full, always in front of him. He was always striving to fulfill that purpose, from early morning until late evening. When he finished his day’s work he was always wondering, “What haven’t I done today and what will I do tomorrow?” He never dwelled too much on achievement . . . on glory.

Now nothing really has the same meaning. I carry on but it’s so different . . . it’s not the same. While he was alive we shared this wonderful life . . . being there at almost every milestone in our countries history. What more could an Israeli couple wish for?

I realize I’m living with the past and not planning too much for the future, you know, just going on, just carrying on. It will never be the same. Never . . . ever. You look back and the natural tendency is to see the lights and forget the shadows. It’s not that there were no shadows, there were indeed. When you summarize this kind of life and Yitzhak’s emerging from a soldier to the leader of his country, then conducting this very unique and dangerous peace process, he was very privileged. He saw himself as privileged. Unfortunately, now it is all destroyed.

I don’t believe it is irreparable, but it’s never been worse then right now. The Palestinians have stopped believing in us anymore. At the same time there is a new reality already here. The Palestinians and the Israelis have mutual programs and continue meeting. Something has already been created on this road. We cannot turn back.

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