Friday, August 31, 2012

Anarchism Still Inspires!


Anarchism still inspires

August 29, 2012

Andrea Tognina 

Anarchists have always been a small minority on the Left. Their history is littered with failures but their basic libertarian ideals are enjoying a resurgence in social movements like Occupy Wall Street.

Anarchism has “largely taken the place of Marxism in the social movements of the 1960s”, according to the American anthropologist David Graeber, one of the intellectuals most quoted by the Occupy movement.

“Even those who do not consider themselves anarchists feel they have to define themselves in relation to it,” he wrote.

That may be wishful thinking on the part of a militant anarchist, but classic libertarian thought is increasingly being picked up by today’s social movements. For example, the principle of “self-management” where decisions are based on consensus and hierarchies are rejected.

Anarchism today appears to be feeling the belated after-effects of 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“In the last 15 years anarchism has been on the up,” says Gabriel Kuhn, an anarchist philosopher originally from Austria.

Kuhn attended a recent global anarchists gathering in one of the “cradles” of anarchy, St Imier in northwestern Switzerland. The event marked the 140th anniversary of the founding of the anti-authoritarian International Workingmen’s Association.

Kuhn believes that the fall of the communist regimes proved anarchists right to some extent. For the anti-capitalist Left, he says, traditional Marxist thinking has lost its attraction.

“In the 1990s, many people were prepared to criticise dictatorial forms of socialism, but still had their reservations about anarchism” he told

“It was considered utopic, romantic and chaotic. But those same people have since ended up taking over many of anarchism’s principles: a democracy where everyone has his or her say, a horizontal structure, a skeptical attitude towards hierarchies and politicians, as well as the principle of direct action.”

St Imier was a milestone in the initial phase of the anarchist movement, which saw significant numbers of anarchists taking part in the workers’ struggle in different countries, getting revolutionary experience during the Paris Commune, in the Ukrainian Soviets and finally Republican Spain.

But this phase of anarchism is considered to have ended with the Second World War.

From class struggle to social change

Anarchist thought re-emerged among the movements of the 1960s, where libertarian inspiration was strong.

“As part of the New Left of 1968, anarchism changed its character. Cultural aspects took on a more important role. Rebelling against the bourgeoisie replaced traditional class struggle,” Kuhn said.

Anarchism influenced the New Left and was influenced by it in turn, and the movement opened up to other perspectives.

“Economic issues were considered more critically, while attention also shifted to other forms of domination: patriarchy, racism, sexual discrimination and the destruction of the environment,” Kuhn added.

After 1968, anarchism branched out. Generational cycles followed.

“Nineteen sixty-eight was a first turning point, then perhaps the 1980s, with the punk movement, and the 1990s, with the insurrection of the Zapatistas in Mexico, the beginning of the anti-globalisation movement and the arrival of the Internet,” said Marianne Enckell, archivist at the International Centre for Research on Anarchism in Lausanne.

The 19th century vision of a great revolutionary reawakening, although not entirely gone, has now given way to the idea of living life as autonomously as possible.

“It is less and less about change, and more and more an attempt to apply anarchist ideals in daily life,” said Edy Zarro, one of the organisers of the Ticino anarchist publishing house La Baronata, who was also at the Saint-Imier meeting.

The concept of self-management is key.

Everyday anarchism

The self-managing organisations that have sprung up in Italy, Spain and elsewhere in recent decades have been able to experiment libertarian theories. Thanks to their horizontal structure and flexibility, it was possible to integrate ideas from other social movements.

Il Molino, a self-managing social centre that started in Ticino in 1996, was strongly influenced by the Zapatista movement in Mexico.

“Comrades went to the Chiapas region, bringing back new ideas from which we extrapolated theories and practices that are now helping us,” said Paolo Casellini, one of the centre’s activists.

“It is interesting for anarchists and libertarians to adopt methods of horizontal, self-managed consensus,” added Michele Bricòla, one of the editors of the Ticino anarchist magazine Voce Libertaria.

“You don’t have to go far – not as far as Mexico – it’s enough to look at what’s going on in Val di Susa, with the NoTav movement,” he added, which is opposing a high-speed rail link under the Alps between France and Italy.

However, among anarchists themselves, not everyone is comfortable with cosying up with other movements or ignoring authority rather than fighting it out in the open.

Revolutionary practice

Most anarchists seem to have given up the claim to political power that was developed by the movement’s theoreticians during the 20th century,  preferring to network with other social movements.

“Before, we would spout our theories, but now we are here to learn,” said Peter Schrembs, an anarchist in Ticino for the past 40 years.

“In any case, anarchists are such a minority that if they aren’t willing to work with others, they won’t achieve much,” said Michel Némitz of the self-managing cultural centre Espace Noir in St Imier, one of the international meeting’s organisers.

“And it won’t just be anarchists who will kick off the revolution, but also ordinary people. We don’t want to do anything in the name of the people. We are not some kind of revolutionary vanguard.”

Anarchism today seems to focus not so much on theory but on practical aspects, concrete action inspired by libertarian methodology.

As Graeber has written, “anarchism has tried to be an ethical discourse about revolutionary practices.” This discourse is based on the assumption that freedom cannot be achieved with authoritarian methods, and that social change begins with change in everyday relationships.

*Artwork courtesy of Bristol Indymedia; Photo courtesy of

Revolutionary groups stage protest against IMF loan

Ahram Online

Wednesday 29 Aug 2012

Dozens of leftist activists march to Cabinet building on Wednesday calling on Egypt's new leaders to reject loan proposals from International Monetary Fund, World Bank

Revolutionary groups staged a protest march in downtown Cairo on Wednesday in which they called on Egypt's leaders to reject loan proposals from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, which, they asserted, would lead to the impoverishment of the Egyptian people.

Groups participating in Wednesday's demonstration included the Revolutionary Socialists, the Kefaya protest movement, the Mina Daniel Movement, the Egyptian People's Party and the Socialist Popular Alliance Party.
The march, which involved dozens of activists, kicked off at downtown Cairo's Borsa café, from which protesters later walked to the nearby Cabinet building, where IMF chief Christine Lagarde was holding meetings with members of Egypt's government.
Rather than taking loans from multilateral institutions, protesters called on the Egyptian government to retrieve state money pilfered by the ousted regime of former president Hosni Mubarak and to modify Egypt's investment law so as to attract greater foreign and local investment.
"No to international loans over the rights of the poor," activists chanted. "Your money impoverishes us." Others held banners aloft reading, "We'll never pay Mubarak's or [President Mohamed] Morsi's debts."
On Wednesday, Lagarde – currently in Cairo to discuss loan proposals – met with members of Egypt's Cabinet to discuss the possibility of a larger-than-expected $4.8 billion loan from the Washington-based body.
Since Mubarak's ouster early last year, Egyptian activists have campaigned under the slogan "Drop Egypt's Debts" in an effort to raise public awareness about the potentially negative economic consequences of taking loans from the IMF. 

***Also participating in this protest were: Anarchists, members of the Egyptian Communist Party, telecommunications workers, members of rights NGOs, unaffiliated leftists, independent activists & others

Activists urge justice for civilians jailed by army courts


Egypt activists urge justice for civilians jailed by army courts

"Since his arrest last year, I have been exhausted and hysterical," said his mother Sabreya Fahmy, choking back tears. "I could kneel at the president's feet to bring me back my innocent son."
At least 12,000 civilians have gone before army courts in the security vacuum that followed the fall of Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, according to the campaign group No to Military Trials, and at least 5,000 are still in jail.

Many of those jailed were arrested in the protests that erupted during the 18 months an interim military government was in charge in Egypt, and some have even been tried since civilian President Mohamed Mursi took office in June.

Mursi has pardoned 630 civilians on the recommendation of a committee he formed to study the cases of 2,165 prisoners. The committee said the cases of the remaining prisoners needed to be investigated further.

Activists want the remainder to be released or at least referred to civilian courts for retrials. Until Mursi acts, they say, his claim to champion the cause of last year's Arab Spring uprising will be open to question.

"It is shameful that President Mursi, who rose to power because of these civilians' struggle and the time they are spending in jail, is sitting in his palace eating with his family, while we have no clue what has become of the people inside those prisons," said prominent activist Ahmed Domma.

They also say the situation is a direct - and dangerous - challenge to Mursi, Egypt's first elected head of state in 5,000 years. Mursi earlier this month dismissed the country's top generals in a bold show of power after 60 years of military leadership.

"The military is still continuing to sentence people and use military tribunals as if it is saying to the president you are not the only one in power," said Salma Abdel-Gelil, a member of No to Military Trials.

Activists have long complained that military trials were used by Mubarak to secure convictions that might not have been possible in more open and accountable civilian courts.


Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood, the socially conservative movement from which he hails, came late to the uprising against Mubarak that was begun by liberal and left-wing activists.

While voicing the same commitment to democracy as those of revolutionaries, and pressing the army to stick to its timetable for elections, the Brotherhood generally avoided direct confrontation with the generals when they were temporarily in charge.

To its critics, the Brotherhood has shown more dedication to the pursuit of power than to human rights and the rule of law.

"The track record of the Brothers during this period is characterized by promises broken and silence in the face of abuses, such as military trials for civilians and the application of the emergency law for most of the SCAF's tenure," Michael Wahid Hanna of The Century Foundation wrote in Foreign Policy, referring to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

"The Brothers, in tandem with the SCAF, also sought to tarnish those intent on continuing the protest movement through mass mobilization and public actions," he said.

Mubarak's overthrow and the election of Mursi has transformed Egypt's stale politics. But many Egyptians say the unreformed security forces still disregard the basic rights of citizens.

Activists say the use of torture by security officials is still common, though officials in the past have routinely denied such practices are routine and say any allegations of torture are properly investigated.


Karim El Kennany, a member of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, said he was detained and beaten last month on charges of insulting an army council member during a demonstration near the house of a general in Cairo.

"We were just standing silently holding up posters about the constitution," said Kennany, 26. "On my way home some plainclothes men tied my arms, blindfolded me and threw me to the ground. They just kept beating us, unthinkingly.

"We found ourselves on a floor of a civilian jail that housed dangerous criminals. The truth is we found among those criminals more humanity than the officers and informants.

"We were lucky that our party backed us and helped us, but there are thousands inside those jails that nobody knows anything about," said Kennany.

On August 12, Mursi pensioned off Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Mubarak's defence minister for 20 years, replaced the chief of staff and cancelled constitutional provisions that conferred wide powers on the army leadership.

The move gave Mursi powers rivalling those of Mubarak. It also removed any doubt that he would be able to release or retry the detainees facing military trial.

"It gives us new grounds to push for all our demands," said Abdel-Gelil of No to Military Trials. "Now he has the legislative and executive power to take the actions he should have taken from the start."

Campaigners say a new constitution being prepared must bar military courts from trying civilians - a practice employed under Mubarak to muzzle Islamists and other political opponents.

At the moment, an army decree still allows troops to arrest civilians on drug charges or on the vague crime of "thuggery".

Mohamed El Zarea, a rights lawyer and member of the committee Mursi appointed to review the military trial cases, said the body would recommend a civil retrial of all the civilian cases it is handling when it issues its final report, due by the end of August.

Critics of the process say the committee risks overlooking the many others detained by the army in often chaotic and arbitrary round-ups.

Others say Mursi seems to be looking after his political allies first; last month he pardoned at least 17 Islamists jailed for militancy during the Mubarak era.

"Mursi is biased because the youth in those jails are not part of his political current," said Samir Ghattas, head of the Middle East Forum, a Cairo-based think tank dealing with regional issues.

*Additional reporting by Tom Pfeiffer; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall

Video: Egyptians protest lack of social justice

Egyptians protest lack of social justice

August 27, 2012 

Recent demonstration outside a power plant near Alexandria has led to the death of one worker.

"Bread, Freedom, and Social Justice" was the main slogan of the Egyptian revolution.

However, 18 months after the uprising, many Egyptians say none of those promises have been fulfilled.

Earlier this week, a worker was killed during a protest outside a power plant in the northern village of El Tarh near Alexandria.

The plant's management said protesters had tried to storm the building, prompting a police officer assigned to the premises to respond. Shots were fired and a 27-year-old man was reportedly killed in the incident.

The protesters have denied their claims, saying that they were demanding jobs and not trouble.

"Where does this officer get off shooting at us with an automatic rifle? After the revolution, we thought we can ask for our rights. We live right next to this massive plant and our children are jobless," one worker said.

*Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh reports from El Tarh near Alexandria.

Scrapping workers' & farmers' quota from parliament?

Egypt Independent

Constituent Assembly may scrap workers' and farmers’ quota in Parliament

Sun, 26/08/2012

Jano Charbel 

The 50 percent quota for workers and farmers in Egypt’s Parliament — enforced for nearly five decades — is in the process of being scrapped from both law and history, as the Constituent Assembly moves towards the elimination of the populist provision, introduced by President Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1964.

The move has been met with resistance from labor unions, agricultural federations, and human rights groups. Many workers, farmers, and activists perceive the action as the latest in a series of attacks on the rights of Egypt’s toiling classes.

In April 2011, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces issued a law criminalizing strikes. At the same time, the ruling generals dragged their feet for nearly a year and failed to issue the eagerly anticipated Trade Union Liberties Law to replace the restrictive Trade Union Law 35/1976.

The current Constituent Assembly, which has a strong Islamist representation, is now deliberating over scrapping the quota for both the People’s Assembly and the Shura Council. There also appears to be an inclination within the Constituent Assembly to decrease the representation of “worker-delegates” within public sector company boards, from 50 to 25 percent.

According to Manal al-Tibi — director of the Egyptian Center for Housing Rights and a member of the Constituent Assembly — liberals, Islamists, centrists, conservatives, and nationalist parties are all pushing for the elimination of the 50 percent quota.

Tibi said that there were also a few isolated calls for the reduction of the 50 percent representation to 25 percent.

“However, more than 90 percent of the Constituent Assembly is now calling for its abolition,” he said. “Only a handful of workers and farmers are calling to keep this constitutional article as is.

There’s no final decision yet, but it looks like it’s on its way to being scrapped altogether.”

The initiative to scrap the representation of workers and farmers dates back to early last year. Shortly after Hosni Mubarak’s ouster in February 2011, liberal reformers, including former chief of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency Mohamed ElBaradei, called for the annulment of the 50 percent workers’ and farmers’ quota on the basis that it provided for a “fake representation in Parliament.”

This stance was later adopted by liberal political groups influenced by ElBaradei — including the National Association for Change and the Dostour Party. Other liberal parties followed suit and spearheaded the initiative to drop the quota — including the Ghad Party and the Democratic Front Party.

But moves towards eliminating the quota have been vehemently denounced by the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF), the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions, and the Egyptian Democratic Labor Congress, along with farmers’ federations and unions. All these associations have recently issued statements denouncing the removal of the quota — and calling for genuine representation of workers and farmers in Parliament.


“There is virtually no representation of leftists in the Constituent Assembly,” said Tibi. “I may be the only one who is representing the left — not as a member of a party or current, but in my individual capacity. I’m one of only a few members calling for the safeguarding of the workers’ and farmers’ quota. This is why I‘ve been struggling and suffering in attempts to discuss this issue; to little avail, however.”

According to Nagy Rashad, a caretaker member on the board of the ETUF, there is practically no representation of Egypt’s different labor and farmers’ unions on the Constituent Assembly.

“In terms of so-called ‘labor representatives’, only Khaled al-Azhari, and another member of the ETUF have been chosen to represent Egypt’s workers,” Rashad said. “They were hand-picked, not on the basis of being workers, but because they belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood and (its political arm) the Freedom and Justice Party.”

Azhari is a deputy president of the ETUF and a former Brotherhood MP who was recently appointed Minister of Manpower.

Rashad added  that “the Constituent Assembly includes a few members of a farmers’ federation who are also closely aligned to the Brotherhood.”

Farmers share the same concerns.

“We farmers have no genuine representatives in Parliament or in any other governmental institution,” said Abdel Meguid al-Khouli, president of the Independent Farmers’ Federation.

Khouli said political representation in Egypt is dependent on who is choosing the representatives.
 He holds that neither Parliament nor the Constituent Assembly represents Egyptian farmers. Of the 100-members in the Constituent Assembly, he said only two are farmers, and neither are from his federation.

“These two so-called farmers are actually professionals,” he said. “We have been repeatedly calling for an assembly and a Parliament which represents all Egyptians — yet we have ended up with constituent assemblies and Parliaments which represent one political current – specifically a religious and sectarian current.”

According to Khouli, the current political situation is a replay of past years’, but with a twist.
 “The Brotherhood is tailoring the laws according to its own direct interests — as was the case with Mubarak’s National Democratic Party,” he said.


The irony, some farmers’ and laborers’ activists say, is that the new laws could end up penalizing the very groups whose calls for social justice spurred the uprising against the former regime.

“The ETUF stands against the cancellation of this quota,” he said. “We must not allow workers and farmers to remain marginalized in our new Egypt.”

He said that instead of cancelling the quota because it is currently ineffective, labor and farmers’ movements and the government should eliminate those who misrepresent Egypt’s workers and farmers in Parliament.

“We must strive to ensure that farmers’ and workers’ MPs do, in fact, represent their constituents, as opposed to representing the ruling regime,” Rashad said.

More often than not, farmer and labor MPs are really retired officers, businessmen, professionals, and large-landowners, according to Tibi.

Activists say the new laws should create real and detailed criteria for who can be classified as a farmer or a worker. The former regime-controlled ETUF used to grant the status of worker to any fee-paying member, and farmer’s struggled to get any genuine authentication.

Tibi believes that there has been no genuine representation of workers and farmers in Parliament since the days of Nasser.

 “I would like to see the 50 percent quota be truly accountable and representative of the people it is supposed to represent,” he said. “Unfortunately, this has not been the case.”

Some say they would agree to do away with the quota if a satisfactory alternative system was put in place.

“I would agree to scrap the quota under one condition — the establishment of a class-based labor party. In this case, we may be able to capture 50 percent of the seats, or more, in Parliament,” said Rashad.

Currently the law does not allow for parties to be formed on the basis of class. Rashad calls this option labors’ “last playing card,” in the current political situation.

It’s the marginalization of workers that leads them to strike, Rashad said. He said that if the authorities want the gears of production to keep on turning, then they should ensure that workers have genuine representation.

“Our rights must be upheld, and our voices must be heard in the new Egypt,” he said.
For Khouli, the 50 percent quota has also been only a vague gesture towards farmers being included in government.

“The quota has failed to represent us and our 6,000 villages, it has failed to raise our living standards, and it has failed to protect our rights,” he said.

Nevertheless, he believes that this quota should remain in place, but with proper criteria that only allows real workers and farmers within Parliament.

“We should clarify that a farmers’ representative is one whose sole income comes from agriculture — this classification must exclude large-landowners and feudalists, along with other non-farmers,” he said.

But first, he said farmers must achieve organization, like the labor movement.

“I support the establishment of labor parties for workers, but for us the ideal ways to organize are through farmers’ unions and federations which can defend our rights anywhere in the country,” he said. “Farmers are not yet united or organized; this is what we are trying to accomplish.”

The Muslim Brotherhood: Egypt's new NDP?

Ahram Online
The Muslim Brotherhood: Egypt's new NDP?

Sunday 26 Aug 2012
Khaled Elgindy

While many welcomed the president's recent sacking of the military's top brass as a necessary step toward civilian rule, others saw it as a naked power grab and precursor to a new form of tyranny. Which interpretation is right?

President Mohamed Morsi's recent sacking of the military's top brass, including former head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and de facto interim president of Egypt Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, has drawn both praise and condemnation from the country's fractured revolutionary and pro-democracy forces.

While some welcomed the move as a necessary step toward genuinely democratic civilian rule, others saw it as a naked power grab and a precursor to a new form of tyranny.

Whatever one thinks of Morsi's move, it has renewed concerns over the role of the Muslim Brotherhood, effectively the country's new ruling party in post-revolutionary Egypt. Indeed, many Egyptians are beginning to wonder whether they haven't simply traded in one single-party dictatorship for another.

Similarities between the Muslim Brotherhood and the now-defunct ruling party of Hosni Mubarak, the National Democratic Party (NDP), are difficult to ignore. Like its former nemesis, the Brotherhood’s political arm the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) represents the most formidable force on the Egyptian political scene today, with an unrivalled political machine backed by substantial business interests and extensive patronage networks at all levels of Egyptian society.

And like the NDP, the Brotherhood/FJP has sought to consolidate its primacy through an accommodation with the military, which despite the recent house-cleaning still wields considerable economic and political power.

The sacking of Tantawi et al, which probably could not have occurred without the backing of other senior officers, has reconfigured the power balance between the Brotherhood and the military, but does not amount to a subordination of the military to civilian rule.

Even more worrying is the Brotherhood’s long history of unilateralism, as well as its own hegemonic tendencies, including its attempts to dominate both the parliament and the constituent assembly (before both were dissolved by court order). Most recently, the wave of media censorship and attacks on free speech directed at voices critical of or hostile to the Brotherhood are eerily reminiscent of the Mubarak era.

The Brotherhood and its supporters dismiss such comparisons as patently unfair – and with some justification. Unlike Mubarak's NDP, whose political domination was built on vote-rigging, intimidation and other forms of institutional thuggery, the Brotherhood's enormous electoral success, whether in recent presidential elections or last winter's parliamentary races, was earned fairly in competitive elections.

Similarly, after just a few months in power, the Brotherhood has nothing like the kind of institutional control over the bureaucracy and state institutions, many of which are semi-autonomous and remain deeply distrustful of the Brotherhood, that was accrued by the NDP over the past several decades.

Such differences are by no means trivial. The introduction of electoral democracy in particular marked a clear and dramatic break with the past, and one that many believe will militate against the emergence of a new dictatorship. After all, as in any democracy, should Morsi and/or the Brotherhood fail to deliver on their promises, Egyptian voters will have an opportunity to "throw the bums out."

Indeed, given Morsi's and the Brotherhood's rather ambitious campaign promises – which include everything from improving Cairo’s notoriously gnarled traffic, to reviving the country's ailing economy, to reforming Egypt’s abusive and incompetent security sector – failure would seem all but guaranteed. This assumes, however, that the political game is taking place on a level playing field, which is certainly not the case in Egypt.

In reality, failure at the governance level does not necessarily mean imminent defeat at the polls. The Brotherhood has already won five of five electoral contests since Mubarak’s ouster. And given its superior organisation and resources, as well as the various levels of disarray and dysfunction of most non-Islamist parties, future parliamentary elections are likely to return similar results.

While we would expect the political fortunes of any group to rise and fall with the ebb and flow of realities on the ground, certain conditions could make the Brotherhood's electoral supremacy much more impervious to change.

Theoretically at least, it is possible for the Brotherhood to fail and still succeed. The most obvious challenge comes from the Brotherhood's preeminent role in drafting Egypt's next constitution, allowing it to write its political dominance directly into the script.

That role was recently enhanced by Morsi's own unilateral 'constitutional declaration' granting himself the power to name a new constituent assembly in the event the current one fails. But there are other, more subtle ways by which the group can institutionalise its dominant position.

As is well known, the Muslim Brotherhood is far more than just a political actor, or even a source of patronage. And despite the FJP's declared independence, decision-making within the 'party' continues to flow directly and organically from the 'association.'

This effectively places the Brotherhood's vast social, charitable and educational operations at the service of its political wing. Add to this the inherent lack of transparency and accountability associated with a highly secretive and, as yet, unlicensed organisation whose internal workings and finances remain beyond public scrutiny and a more problematic picture begins to emerge.

The potential manipulative impact of such a machine goes far beyond mere patronage, particularly when combined with another highly potent force – religion. The ability to claim religious legitimacy gives the Brotherhood an aura of moral superiority, if not infallibility, over its non-Islamist (or 'un-Islamic') political rivals, which could be used to stifle legitimate political dissent.

Recent threats by pro-Brotherhood clerics against anti-Morsy voices, some of whom attempted to make opposition to the president tantamount to apostasy, may not have been sanctioned by the Brotherhood, but could easily become a more pervasive (and acceptable) phenomenon down the road.

Ironically, even the Brotherhood's electoral legitimacy could be used to justify anti-democratic behaviour, signs of which are evident in Morsy’s somewhat SCAF-esque constitutional declaration granting himself sweeping executive and legislative powers.

Thus, while the Brotherhood may lack the institutional powers of the old NDP, it enjoys several other significant advantages over the former ruling party, which could ultimately prove more resilient. With the exception of the military, whose interests do not lie primarily in ensuring the emergence of a democratic political order, there remain few checks on Morsi's (and by extension the Brotherhood's) authority. Equally worrisome, there has yet to emerge a viable and cohesive political force capable of challenging the Brotherhood's dominance.

This does not mean, however, that the Brotherhood has replicated the tyrannical order that existed under Mubarak, or even that it necessarily will – only that it has the potential to do so with very little standing in the way.

So, has the Muslim Brotherhood become the new NDP? The answer is no – or at least not yet. Until such checks are put in place, however, it is prudent for Egyptians to keep asking the question.

Egypt's Unfinished Labor Revolution

In These Times
Egypt's Unfinished Labor Revolution

Friday - August 24, 2012

Eric Lee

More than 20 years before the fall of the Mubarak regime, some Egyptians were already in revolt. In 1989, 17,000 steel workers in Helwan staged an "illegal" strike. One of the young rebels, Kamal Abbas, a welder at a large steelworks south of Cairo, was arrested as a ringleader and jailed for 45 days.

Thanks to the strike, the workers in Helwan eventually saw pay increases. For Abbas, it was the beginning of a long career leading workers in struggles against the official state unions controlled by the Mubarak regime. Abbas headed the Center for Trade Union and Workers Services (CTUWS), founded just after that strike, which for years maintained a precarious existence--sometimes tolerated, sometimes banned by the government.

During that two decade struggle, Abbas and the CTUWS were a thorn in the side of the state-controlled unions, which fall under the umbrella of the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF). As the Mubarak government pursued its neoliberal agenda of privatizations, the ETUF's role was to discipline the workforce to ensure industrial peace during a time of change. (Later, when the Mubarak regime was tottering, it was the ETUF's thugs that Mubarak supporters called in to Tahrir Square to try to break up the protests.)

In 2010, Abbas and the CTUWS were recognized by the AFL-CIO and given the organization's prestigious annual George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award at a ceremony in Cairo. I attended the event, one of a few international guests at a CTUWS conference that we were warned could be broken up at any moment by the police. It was a time of increasing labor unrest in Egypt, involving not only strikes in giant, sprawling factories but also huge street protests and sit-ins.

The collapse of the Mubarak regime in 2011 did not bring an end to the ETUF. Among other things, its leaders continued to go on expensive overseas junkets, including participating in the annual International Labor Conference in Geneva.

Abbas, too, attended the Geneva conference, as the invited guest of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). When Ismael Fahmy, a Mubarak loyalist still holding down a job as an ETUF leader, came onstage to give an address, Abbas heckled him from the crowd.

It was a minor incident, hardly worthy of note, except that several months later a court in Cairo convicted Abbas in absentia of "insulting a public officer." Abbas was sentenced to six months in prison. He is currently free as his lawyers appeal the decision.

The case of Kamal Abbas tells us much about what has been happening in Egypt--and what needs to happen next.

When I interviewed Abbas in London last year, he said, "The Egyptian revolution succeeded in removing the dictatorship, but we are only halfway to a democratic state and in transition to building independent unions, which are a basis of a more socially just and democratic system."

Independent, democratic trade unions, free of state control, are at the heart of Abbas' vision for Egypt, and this remains as true today as it was under the Mubarak regime. The international trade union movement understands this. Earlier this year, the ITUC launched a global campaign demanding an end to the persecution of Abbas, run through the LabourStart website (which I edit).

Meanwhile, the courts continue to delay ruling on Abbas' appeal.

1,000s of anti-Morsi protesters gather outside presidential palace

Ahram Online
Thousands of anti-Morsi protesters gather outside presidential palace

August 24, 2012

Yasmine Fathi

Around three thousand people turned up on Friday at the presidential palace in Cairo to take part in protests against what they dubbed the "Brotherhoodisation" of Egypt.

Among the protesters were supporters of the military, liberals, and activists calling for an end to the regime of President Mohamed Morsi, the first democratically elected president since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.

Protesters chanted against the president, who came to power in late June, and accused him of being a traitor who wants to monopolise power in Egypt. Morsi, who is a long time member of the Muslim Brotherhood and was the former head of the group's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), was accused of not being loyal to the Egyptian people.

"Morsi's loyalty goes to the Brotherhood only and the Egyptian people need a president who makes them his first priority," said Said Darwich, an employee at a telecommunication company, who joined the protest.

The group chanted "down with the rule of the Brotherhood," "we want a civil state not a Brotherhood state," and “the Brotherhood are murderers.”

Widespread calls for the protests had been spreading across social networking sites for weeks. Two controversial Egyptian figures, anti-revolution television presenter Tawfiq Okasha and former MP Mohamed Abu-Hamed, were the first to call for mass protests aimed at "toppling Muslim Brotherhood rule."

Anti-Brotherhood sentiment has been building after several key decisions made by Morsi.
Fears of Brotherhood control over state institutions led several Egyptian writers and journalists to leave their columns blank on 9 August to protest perceived attempts by the Brotherhood to control state-owned publications.

Islam Afify, the editor-in-chief of Al-Dostour newspaper, was put on trial for insulting President Mohamed Morsi and publishing inaccurate information.

The suspension of the Faraeen Egyptian television channel, which is owned by prominent talk show host Okasha, ceased transmission in August after Egyptian state authorities ordered the station's closure for at least one month. Okasha also faces charges of inciting violence against the president.

The death of 16 Egyptian soldiers after an attack on the border in Sinai has also left many people angry. The protest was also transformed into an anti-Brotherhood revolt, however, when it was picked up by others whose fear of the Brotherhood was heightened after President Mohamed Morsi retired Egypt's military rulers earlier this month.

Several marches were organised across Cairo, with the presidential palace, Misr El-Gedida district, the focal point. One set off from the memorial of the Unknown Soldier in the nearby Nasr City district.

Earlier in the day, heavy security was present around the palace which is situated in the affluent suburb of Heliopolis.

All roads leading to the palace were blocked, with security officers directing traffic away from the area. Dozens of security trucks were stationed around the palace and hundreds of baton wielding state security troops stood around the area from the early morning.

The street where the palace was situated was blocked with barbed wire. However, despite the tense atmosphere, the vicinity of the palace remained calm for hours after the organised protests were expected to begin.

Although the marches were scheduled to arrive promptly after the Friday prayer, the area remained free of protesters, with only reporters and state security officers in the area. At about 2:30pm, protesters began filtering in, waving Egyptian flags.

Security and the barbed wire stopped them from entering the street of the palace. However, by 4pm, thousands of protesters began arriving from Abbasiya Square and Madinet Nasser.

"Look at all these army trucks and the barbed wire," fumed Suzan Esmat, a tour guide. "I've been a political activist for 15 years and I never saw anything like this. Not even during the Mubarak era.”
Esmat said the main demand of the protest was an end to the Brotherhood's domination of all sectors of Egyptian life.

"They are taking over the judiciary, the media, and the military," Esmat said.

She also expressed anger at Morsi's recent decision to release Islamist political prisoners, while many activists arrested during the past two years remain detained. She also criticised Morsi for attempting to overrule a decision by the constitutional court to bring back parliament after it was dissolved.

"We want a transparent democracy. We want to know what the reasons behind these decisions are," Esmat said.

She also demanded that an investigation be launched into the funding of the Brotherhood.
"Today is basically a message to tell Morsi that we hate him," Esmat said. "And in the next few months we will have bigger and bigger protests."

Esmat added that the Brotherhood does not respect the country's other political forces which used to defend them against the repression of the Mubarak regime.

"For years I used to go to protests to demand that they release Khairat El-Shater and other Brotherhood members from prison,” said Esmat. “We defended them when they were down and now that they are in power, they've sold us out."

Mohamed Idris, another protester, also accused the Brotherhood of lying to the Egyptian people.
"At first they said that under Mubarak the group was illegal and that their only wish was to have a licensed political party," said Idris.

"Then they said they want the parliament, then the constituent assembly which is drafting the constitution, then they changed their decision not to field a presidential candidate and now we have Morsi. They are liars and they can’t rule Egypt."

Gamal Salem, a retired technician, told Ahram Online that he is angry at the government’s decision to ban Okasha’s Faraeen channel.

"Everyone in Egypt loved that channel. Okasha is the voice of the Egyptian people," Salem said.
Others at the protest demanded the immediate dissolution of the both the Brotherhood and the FJP.

"They use religion as a tool to gain the sympathy of the Egyptian people, because they know that we have strong faith," said Farag Abdel Salam. "But this manipulation has to end."

While many expressed disappointment at the low turnout, they stressed that they would not give up.
"The Brotherhood scare the people. Now everyone feels that if they oppose them they will go to prison," says Abdel Salam. "But we will come back stronger than ever. They can't stop us."

*Photo by Mai Shaheen

1000s rally in 1st significant protests against President Morsi

Associated Press

A few thousand rally in first significant protests against Egypt’s new Islamist president 

August 24, 2012

CAIRO (AP) — Several thousand Egyptians rallied Friday in the first significant protests against the country’s Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, accusing him and his Muslim Brotherhood group of trying to monopolize power.

The main protest in Cairo, which counted around 3,000 people and converged on the presidential palace from several locations, drew a far smaller turnout than the mass demonstrations that helped topple Morsi’s predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, or the later rallies against the council of generals that took power after Mubarak’s fall.

While the turnout was low for Friday’s rally in Cairo, as well as similar ones in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria and elsewhere, the protests point to the fears many Egyptians feel with the Islamist president and his policies, and reflect the deep divide in Egyptian society over the country’s future direction under Morsi and the Brotherhood.

Other than minor scuffles, the demonstrations in Cairo were peaceful. However, a mob wielding knives and sticks attacked around 1,000 anti-Brotherhood protesters in Alexandria. Several people were wounded and someone in the crowd lit a flare that sent clouds of smoke into the air. It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack.

Protesters accuse Morsi of monopolizing power and say that he exceeded his authority when he assumed legislative powers after forcing senior generals into retirement following a deadly attack this month by militants that killed 16 Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai Peninsula.

The protesters in Cairo appeared to be largely made up of supporters of the former regime and those calling for Egypt to remain a secular state. Notably absent, however, were Egypt’s liberal and secular parties as well as the youth activists who helped engineer last year’s uprising against Mubarak.

In Cairo, protesters carried Egypt’s red, white and black flags and signs that read “Down with Brotherhood rule” while chanting “illegitimate” in reference to Morsi’s wide-sweeping powers.

Khairy Hassan, an English teacher taking part in the rally in Tahrir Square, accused the Brotherhood of betraying the people.

“What is happening from the Brotherhood is not accepted by logic or by people,” Hassan said. “What is happening is that the ‘Brotherhoodization’ of the government.”

Days before Morsi was sworn-in as president in late June, Egypt’s then-ruling generals who were locked in a power struggle with the Islamists dissolved the Brotherhood-led parliament after the Supreme Court ruled that a third of the legislature was elected illegally.

The Mubarak-appointed generals also granted themselves legislative powers and the right to form the committee that would draft Egypt’s new constitution — a stab at guaranteeing the military power over the future direction of the country.

Earlier this month Morsi struck back, pushing the most senior generals into retirement and giving himself full legislative powers, adding to the executive authority he already held as president.

Protesters also took aim at the Brotherhood, saying it does not have the legal status to operate as a non-governmental organization as required by law and complaining that the group’s finances are out of government purview.

The Brotherhood’s political arm, though, known as the Freedom and Justice Party, was formed after the uprising and does have legal status.

The Brotherhood has been in existence for more than 80 years, and did not register itself in Egypt in the past because it was outlawed and persecuted under previous regimes.

“The Muslim Brotherhood should not be above the Egyptian law,” said protester Mohamed Amin. “They have to adhere to the Egyptian law pertaining to political parties, civil societies and
associations by paying taxes.”

The Brotherhood, which has on numerous occasions in the past 17 months demonstrated its ability to mobilize thousands of people into the streets, called upon its members to secure the group’s offices in case of attacks by protesters after some had called for violence against Brotherhood property.

*Photo courtesy of AP

Remembering Sacco & Vanzetti - 85 years on

1916-1927: The execution of Sacco and Vanzetti

August 23, 2012

The story of two Italian-born anarchists, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, framed for murder and then executed for their beliefs.

"Did you see what I did to those anarchist bastards?"
- Presiding Judge Webster Thayer

Sacco and Vanzetti (see picture, left) were committed anarchists who had been active in many workers' struggles. In 1916, Sacco was arrested for taking part in a demonstration in solidarity with workers on strike in Minnesota. In the same year he took part in a strike in a factory in Plymouth, Massachusetts. It was here that he met Bartolomeo Vanzetti, who was one of the principal organisers of that strike. Like most anarchists, the two were also active in their opposition to the First World War.

Severe poverty in the post-war years meant that many workers were dissatisfied with the status quo. The authorities were terrified that workers might follow the example of the Russian Revolution, and were doing everything in their power to portray communism and anarchism as 'un-American', and to frighten workers way from 'red' propaganda.

In April 1920, anarchist Andrea Salsedo was arrested and detained for 8 weeks. On the morning of May 3rd, he 'fell' to his death from the 14th floor window of a New York Dept. of Justice building. 

Sacco and Vanzetti, along with other comrades, immediately called a public meeting in Boston to protest. While out building support for this meeting they were arrested on suspicion of "dangerous radical activities". They soon found themselves charged with a payroll robbery which had taken place the previous April in which 2 security guards had been killed.

The case came to trial in June 1921, and lasted for seven weeks. The state's case against the two was almost non-existent. Twelve of Vanzetti's customers (he was working as a fish seller) testified that he was delivering fish to them at the time of the crime. An official of the Italian Consulate in Boston testified that Sacco had been seeing him about a passport at the time. Furthermore, somebody else confessed to the crime and said that neither Sacco nor Vanzetti had anything to do with it.

The judge in the case, Judge Webster Thayer, said of Vanzetti: "This man, although he may not have actually committed the crime attributed to him, is nevertheless morally culpable, because he is the enemy of our existing institutions." The foreman of the jury, a retired policeman, said in response to a friend of his who ventured the opinion that Sacco and Vanzetti might be innocent "Damn them. They ought to hang anyway."

Having sentenced the two men to death, the judge boasted to a friend "Did you see what I did to those anarchist bastards the other day"

There was no doubt about the fact that Sacco and Vanzetti were on trial for their political beliefs and that the verdict when it came was a class verdict - the state was delivering a clear message to the US working class - steer well clear of anarchist thought or face the consequences.

Sacco and Vanzetti were to spend the next six years in prison as appeal after appeal was turned down. Finally, on August 23rd 1927, they were executed.

News of the executions sent hundreds of thousands of protestors into the streets all across the world. 

The US embassy in Paris had to be surrounded by tanks to protect it from an angry crowd of protestors, a riot in London resulted in 40 injuries, the US Consulate in Geneva was surrounded by a 5,000 strong crowd, huge crowds wearing black armbands marched in Boston and New York.

Shortly before he was executed, Vanzetti said, "The last moment belongs to us - that agony is our triumph!" It is in remembering the moment of their deaths, and in continuing to fight for their vision of a new, fair society that we honour these men.

To commemorate the executions and to renew the commitment to the ideals they fought for, anarchists and labour activists in New York and around the world often hold commemorative events on 23rd August each year.

*Art by RiotKarma


Death penalty opponents remember Sacco and Vanzetti

Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Fred Contrada 

SPRINGFIELD — For years now, they have been gathering on the same day, Aug. 23, for the same reason.

It’s the anniversary of an event that encapsulates all they stand for and all they oppose. On Aug. 23, 1927, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts executed Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, two Italian immigrants convicted of murder, more because of who they were than because of what the prosecution proved they did.

The Hampden County Chapter of the Massachusetts Citizens Against the Death Penalty has been carrying the torch for its cause since 1991. At times, it has seemed a hopeless one, but this year some members believe they can see their goal flickering faintly on the horizon: an end to capital punishment in the United States.

In conjunction with the Catholic Charities Agency of the Springfield Diocese, the group will hold its annual memorial to Sacco and Vanzetti at the Bishop Marshall Center of St. Michael’s Cathedral from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The ceremony will honor two long-time proponents of its cause. The keynote speaker, William C. Newman, directs the Western Regional Office of the American Civil Liberties Union and began fighting the death penalty before the ink was dry on his law degree. Saul Finestone, the chairman of the Hampden County chapter, will receive the Ken Childs Award for his years of dedication.

Anxiety was high in America when five armed men robbed a Braintree shoe company on April 15, 1920. The country was going through the “Red Scare” as Communism took hold in other parts of the world, and many people were suspect. The paymaster and a guard were shot and killed in the robbery, which netted about $15,000. The thieves got away.

A month later, police arrested Sacco, a shoemaker, and Vanzetti, a fish peddler. Both men were carrying pistols at the time and gave false statements to police. Although they were self-proclaimed anarchists, neither Sacco nor Vanzetti had a criminal record and there was no hard evidence tying them to the robbery.

Their subsequent trial became the embodiment of what death penalty opponents believe is wrong with the judicial system. Eyewitness accounts that put the men at the scene have been called into question, and statements made by the judge and prosecutor were rife with prejudice, according to critics.

The anarchism of Sacco and Venzetti had less to do with terrorism than with the workers’ rights movement sweeping the globe. That both were Italian immigrants didn’t help. Some death penalty opponents see parallels to the case of James Halligan and Domenic Daley, two Irish immigrants who were unjustly convicted of murder and hanged in Northampton in 1806.

Sacco and Vanzetti were electrocuted on Aug. 23, 1927. People still debate whether or not they were involved in the robbery, but many, notably death penalty opponents, are adamant that they did not get a fair trial.

Since the Sacco and Vanzetti case, death sentences have slowly diminished across the country. The last men executed in Massachusetts were Edward Gerston and Phillip Belino, who were electrocuted for murder in 1943. Richard Valliere, a Springfield man, was the last person sentenced to death in the state. Valliere was found guilty in 1972 of killing two people during a bank robbery in Chicopee. His death sentence was stayed, however, and ultimately reversed by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which cited a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the death penalty was unconstitutional.

The U.S. Supreme Court reversed that ruling four years later, but Massachusetts abolished the state death penalty in the meantime. There have been various attempts to reinstate it, notably a 1997 bill that failed on an 80-80 tie when Rep. John Slattery, D-Peabody, changed his vote from yes to no.

Newman has a simple answer to those who support the axiom “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”
“Better that 10 guilty men go free than any single innocent man be executed,” he said.

Newman is among those who believe the Sacco and Vanzetti trial was a travesty of justice.

“There was a hysteria about their politics that had nothing to do with the case,” he said. “They were convicted of being different, not because they were guilty.”

According to Newman, the race of the victim and the defendant are the dominant factors in death sentences. He rejects the notion that the penalty serves as a deterrent to crime.

“The death penalty experiment in the United States only proves the government can spend massive amounts of money to kill innocent people with no benefit to the public safety,” he said.

Although the U.S. executes more people per capita than any country in the world, according to Newman’s figures, it has slowly phased out as individual states have abolished that punishment.

Death sentences, Newman said, have declined by 75 percent nationally since 1976.

Finestone, 85, a retired social studies teacher and Longmeadow resident, has been on the front line for decades. When nurse Kristen Gilbert faced the death penalty for murdering patients at the
Northampton Veterans Affairs Medical Center in 2000, Finestone was among the protesters in Court Square carrying signs that said, “Don’t Kill Kristen Gilbert for me.” The jury opted to sentence Gilbert to life in prison.

Finestone believes state-sponsored execution is wrong in itself, but says the Sacco and Vanzetti case exemplifies the injustice of it.

“I don’t want to see innocent people killed,” he said. “We know that has happened.”

Thursday, August 30, 2012

News editor charged, Brotherhood take control of state media

Reporters Without Borders/RSF

President orders editor’s release but concerns remain


Friday 24 August 2012 


Reporters Without Borders hails yesterday’s decision by President Mohamed Morsi to request Al-Dostour editor Islam Afifi’s release just hours after a court placed him in pre-trial detention. 

Afifi is due to be tried on 16 September on various charges including publishing false information about President Morsi.

The press freedom organization also welcomes an announced presidential decree repealing pre-trial detention for media offences. "Mr. Afifi will be released under this decree,” presidential spokesman Yasser Ali said.

Reporters Without Borders nonetheless continues to be very worried about the overall media freedom situation, especially in the wake of the Shura Council’s appointment of new CEOs and editors to state-owned newspapers on 8 August, which has had a big impact on their editorial policies and has led to articles critical of the Muslim Brotherhood being spiked.

"Respect for the independence of the state-owned media is one of the fundamental guarantees of freedom of information in a country that aspires to be democratic," Reporters Without Borders reiterated.


Newspaper editor detained, Muslim Brotherhood take control of state media


Reporters Without Borders is alarmed by the restrictions on media freedom resulting from recent decisions by Egypt’s newly-elected authorities.

It is also very worried about today’s decision by a criminal court judge in Giza to detain Islam Afifi, the editor of the daily Al-Dostour, until he is tried on charges of publishing lies about the president and endangering Egypt’s interests and stability.

Afifi was charged in response to many complaints about the newspaper’s 11 August issue, which had a front-page story warning that the Muslim Brotherhood could turn Egypt into an "emirate." The complaints also led to a court order under which copies of the issue were seized.

"This is a sad day for media freedom in Egypt because, for the first time since the January 2011 revolution, a professional journalist has been jailed for what he has written,” Reporters Without Borders said. "The judicial authorities are trampling on the desire for freedom that the Egyptian people expressed during the 2011 and 2012 protests. We call for Afifi’s immediate release."

Shortly before the judge issued his detention order, Afifi told Agence France-Presse he was the victim of a "political" prosecution.

The court ruling comes amid other very disturbing blows to freedom of information in Egypt. Six weeks after taking office, President Mohamed Morsi got the Shura Council – in which the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) has 60 per cent of the 174 directly-elected seats – to appoint new CEOs and editors to the state-owned media on 8 August.

Several well-known FJP allies were appointed, marking a major break with the past, when the state media were extremely hostile to the then-banned Muslim Brotherhood. The appointments were nonetheless contrary to the wishes expressed by journalists and media that they should be made by an independent body.

"The authorities are continuing the Mubarak era’s methods of making appointments and are thereby perpetuating government control of the state-owned media, which must stop," Reporters Without Borders said, calling for the appointments to be rescinded. "Media independence is one of the guarantees of freedom of information in a country that wants to establish a democratic system."

Reporters Without Borders will closely monitor the drafting of the new constitution, in particular, whether it provides real protection for fundamental freedoms.

The appointments have already had an impact on the state-owned newspapers. According to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), they have stopped printing critical articles. One, Al-Akhbar, has eliminated its “Free opinion page” and has ceased to publish the writer and novelist Ibrahim Abdulmeged’s weekly columns.

Abdulmeged said his sidelining was the result of the new editorial policy introduced immediately after the Shura Council appointed Mohamed Hassan Al-Bana as editor in chief. Al-Bana refused to take any articles from authors critical of the Muslim Brotherhood, he said, adding that editors appointed by appointed by the National Democratic Party during the Mubarak era were "more professional.”

According to ANHRI, Al-Akhbar also refused to publish an article entitled "Neither listening nor obedience" by the writer Yusef Al-Qaeed criticising the Egyptian Media Production City siege by members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s youth wing, who threatened journalists critical of the president. And it spiked an article by Aabla Al-Riwaini about the "Brotherization" of the print media after the author refused to drop the word "brotherization."

An article by Ghada Nabeel criticizing these publication bans was itself refused publication by the pro-government daily Al-Gomhurria. Nabeel said she was very worried to see such practices become systematic.

"The pro-government newspaper bans on articles critical of the Muslim Brotherhood clearly show that their new, Shura Council-controlled editors are putting pressure on journalists who question government policies," Reporters Without Borders said. "Like the method of their appointments, they cast doubt on the independence of the state media."

Three independent newspapers – Al-Watan, Al-Tahrir and Al-Masry Al-Youm – printed special inserts instead of editorials on 9 August accusing the Muslim Brotherhood of being bent on controlling the media.

Tawfiq Okacha, the owner of a TV station called El-Faraeen (The Pharaohs) and presenter of a programme that is very critical of the Muslim Brotherhood and President Morsi, has meanwhile been charged with inciting the president’s assassination and the government’s overthrow. His trial is due to open on 1 September. The TV station has been suspended for a month and could be closed for good.


The curious case of a censored history book

Egypt Independent
The curious case of a censored history book 

Sun, 26/08/2012

Omar Cheta 

A government censorship agency banned a book. Two days later, it revoked the ban. Should we be thankful that the ban was temporary? No, we should be concerned that a censorship agency exists in the first place, whatever its mandate and however infrequently it uses its authority.

Last week, the Egyptian Print Censorship Authority held a shipment of history textbooks that was headed to the American University in Cairo (AUC). Everyone involved must have been puzzled.

Khaled Fahmy, the history professor who ordered the book, is by no means the first to assign it. The American University in Cairo bookstore has probably been selling the book since it first appeared in 1994.

True, the AUC has been in the middle of censorship controversies in the past, most famously in 1998 and 1999 when it faced (and unfortunately, succumbed to) government and media campaigns to ban the teaching of Maxime Rodinson’s “Muhammad” and Mohamed Choukri’s “For Bread Alone.”
But in these instances, the accusations revolved around denigrating Islam and offending the students’ cultural sensibilities. Even those clichéd phrases are irrelevant to the book in question.

“A History of the Modern Middle East” is a popular introductory textbook that covers the history of the region since the 19th century. William L. Cleveland, a historian of Arab nationalism, originally authored the book. Due to its success as a textbook, second and third editions were issued in 1999 and 2004. Both times, as is the norm with academic works, Cleveland revised parts of the original text, added new sections (covering, for example, the American occupation of Iraq) and summarized his revisions in a preface.

Cleveland passed away in 2006 but the textbook continued to be widely taught in English-speaking universities around the world, including Egypt. A few years later, another historian, Martin Bunton, took on the task of issuing a fourth edition of the book, which came out in 2009. This latest edition, now co-authored by Cleveland and Bunton, expectedly became one of the main English language introductions to the history of the Modern Middle East.

Like any effective textbook, the popularity of “A History of the Modern Middle East” comes from its comprehensiveness and organization. The book covers a very wide range of topics from Muhammad Ali’s attempt to build a modern state in Egypt 200 years ago, to Islamic activism in the contemporary Middle East. Because it is impossible to tackle each of these issues in depth within the span of a single book, even a 600-page book like this one, and since this is an introductory textbook in the first place, the authors have also included a concise list of specialized history books as an appendix.

The bottom line is, not only is it an extremely useful book for students who are seeking an introduction to the history of the region, it is not a controversial book. Even if an instructor wanted to indoctrinate his or her students in a certain idea they would not be able to use the book, which is specifically designed to encourage its readers to seek more specialized knowledge outside it.

Why then was the book (temporarily) banned? The censorship agency explained that the maps in the book were inaccurate. No wonder, of course, that their justification had to do with an image rather than with the written word. Who has the time to read 600 pages of history anyway?

The book contains 18 maps, none of which is of contemporary Egypt. Following the process of elimination, one is left with a possibly controversial map on page 168 that is entitled “The Middle East in the interwar period.” The map is centered on the Arabian Peninsula and is meant to show the countries occupied by Britain and France in the period 1918-1939. Only the eastern part of Egypt appears in it. Probably, what the censor found most unnerving about the map was that the Halayeb triangle (unlabeled on this map) fell outside the border of British-occupied Egypt and inside Anglo-Egyptian Sudan.

Needless to say, both are political entities that have ceased to exist for almost 60 years. Convinced that he arrived at a reasonable resolution to this minor crisis, the censor finally decided to lift the ban on the book after “correcting” the maps in each copy manually.

What is most concerning about the episode we are looking at here is that it does not contain the necessary elements of a censorship cause célèbre. In recent decades, cases of censorship that gained a high level of public attention usually revolved either around religious sensibilities and morality, or were championed by journalists. In the near past, intellectuals protested when a group of lawyers tried to ban the monumental “One Thousand and One Nights” on the grounds that it contained obscene content.

A wider outcry occurred when journalist Ibrahim Issa was sentenced to a year in prison for defaming the former president. A couple of days ago, Islam Afify, the editor of Al-Dostour, was detained briefly by a criminal court, where he is being tried for insulting the current president. All of these cases rallied support because they were easily identified as assaults on freedom of expression.

In the case of the banned/altered history textbook, we are facing a different kind of challenge. First, the case received very little media attention because history occupies a rather paradoxical place in our public conversations. On the one hand, history is perceived as a compilation of verifiable objective facts. On the other, it is considered an entirely subjective enterprise that follows no standard.

Hence, censoring a history book could take place on the grounds that it got its facts wrong, or alternatively, because it produced a politically motivated account. In either case, seeing a historical study as an exercise in freedom of expression is not a straightforward conclusion for most. Second, even though politically motivated, those who imposed the ban are nameless bureaucrats who did not claim to heroically protect society from false knowledge.

The ban was a silent, routine act of censorship undertaken by a clerk who was probably protecting himself against the offhand chance that his superior might accuse him of not doing his job properly.

This routine episode is a reminder that we should reject all forms of state censorship. We cannot blame the censor for doing his job, nor should we praise him for being permissive. Both of these positions are self-defeating and will lead us time and again to the question of where to draw the line and who is to draw it.

The burden of authenticating any form of knowledge should not fall on a state appointee, however knowledgeable. In a democratic society, this burden is undisputedly reserved for the citizen.

Egypt: News editor charged with insulting president

Associated Press

Egypt President Issues Law to Free News Editor

August 23, 2012 

Maggie Michael

Egypt's president intervened to release a newspaper editor jailed over accusations of insulting him on Thursday, issuing a law for the first time since he assumed legislative powers earlier this month.

President Mohammed Morsi's ban on detention for journalists accused of publishing-related offenses overrides a court decision earlier in the day ordering newspaper editor Islam Afifi to remain in prison pending trial in September.

The court's decision and case against Afifi, accused of slandering the president and undermining public interest, has caused uproar in Egypt among journalists and intellectuals, with dozens holding a protest Thursday night in Cairo demanding the protection of free speech.

The decree affecting those awaiting trial for offenses such as libel, defamation and slander is the first law Morsi issued since taking over legislative authorities in the absence of a parliament, and following a decision to retire a cadre of generals with whom he had shared power earlier this month.

Morsi, who was sworn in as president in late June, issued the law just hours after a Cairo court ordered the imprisonment of Afifi, editor of the privately-owned el-Dustour daily. Egypt's official news agency reported shortly thereafter that the attorney general had ordered Afifi's release.
The case is one of several lawsuits brought mainly by Islamists against journalists in Egypt, accusing them of inflammatory coverage and inciting the public against the Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi's own movement and the country's most powerful political force.

El-Dustour regularly runs articles warning of alleged Brotherhood plots and conspiracies to turn Egypt into a fundamentalist Islamic state. It also has promoted an anti-Brotherhood demonstration for Friday, initially calling for the torching of Brotherhood offices but later toning down its call to peaceful rallies in Cairo.

Rights groups had expressed indignation at the court's decision to imprison Afifi, saying it betrayed the values of last year's revolt that deposed Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's longtime authoritarian president.

"This is a sad day for media freedom in Egypt because, for the first time since the January 2011 revolution, a professional journalist has been jailed for what he has written," the Paris-based

Reporters Without Borders wrote in a statement. "The judicial authorities are trampling on the desire for freedom that the Egyptian people expressed during the 2011 and 2012 protests."

Youth activist Wael Ghonim, a former Google executive who played a key role in Egypt's uprising last year, wrote on Twitter that "insulting the president is a vague accusation that can be easily politicized."

"Tomorrow, when someone writes his opinion and calls Morsi a weak president ... he will be prosecuted for insulting the president," he added.

In the noisy court session earlier on Thursday, the head prosecutor from Cairo's Criminal Court had ordered Afifi held in custody and scheduled his trial for mid-September. He read out a long list of defamation charges including "insulting the president via a publication" and "spreading rumors that could disturb public safety and harm public interest."

Supporters of the defendant shouted in protest as the decision was read to the packed courtroom.

Pro-democracy activists have shown mixed reactions to the court cases. Many defend the right of freedom of expression and deem the Islamists' practices as repressive. Others side with the Islamists and accuse journalists facing trial of spreading propaganda in the service of former regime loyalists.

Another prominent case is that of TV presenter Tawfiq Okasha, who was accused of suggesting the murder of Morsi during a talk show aired on the private el-Faraeen TV station earlier this month.

The network was taken off the air and Okasha was banned from travel pending his trial in early September. Lawsuits have also been brought against chief editors of el-Fagr and Sawt el-Umma weeklies on similar accusations.

The Islamists, and especially the Brotherhood, have intensified their campaign against media they perceive as antagonistic, claiming they follow the former regime's agenda. The group feels empowered after Morsi became Egypt's first elected civilian president in modern history.

The call for protests against the Brotherhood on Friday has spurred public debate, especially after a Brotherhood cleric issued a religious edict, known as a fatwa, saying that killing anti-Islamist protesters was permissible.

Activists demand Morsi to take a strong stance against such statements. Presidential Spokesman Yasser Ali on Wednesday said the president supports the right to hold protests and said "it is unhealthy" to spread fears about protesters' safety.

Concerns of a possible showdown in Cairo have escalated. The Brotherhood asked its members to protect the group's offices from opposition protesters on Friday. Security authorities warned in a statement that they would "confront with all firmness ... riots or chaos that harms citizens' interests."

Leading pro-democracy advocate Mohamed ElBaradei said the developments in Egypt are "as if no revolution has taken place."

Although the lower house of parliament, which drafts laws, was dissolved this year, the Brotherhood-led upper chamber of parliament known as the Shura Council continues to function. The council controls state-owned newspapers and last month ordered the dismissal of 50 chief editors, many viewed as regime loyalists.

The appointment of new editors, who are either sympathizers of the Islamists or members of the Brotherhood, sparked a wave of protests by journalists both within and outside state media. The national journalist association known as The Press Syndicate accused the Brotherhood of trying to monopolize the media and turn it into its mouthpiece.

Associated Press correspondent Aya Batrawy contributed to this report.

*Photo courtesy of AP