It is the job of the thinking people not to be on the side of the executioners – Albert Camus

We must not accept the memory of states as our own. Nations are not communities and never have been. The history of the country, presented as the history of a family, conceals fierce conflicts of interest (sometimes explosive, most often repressed) between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated by race and sex. And in such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of the thinking people not to be on the side of the executioners.

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Egypt’s crisis – The Storm before the storm –

The Economist  – August 17 2013

THE Egyptian army’s action on August 14th was not unexpected. Nor was it unlooked for by those who bore its brunt, the supporters of ousted President Muhammad Morsi. But it was surprisingly savage.

At the time of the July 3rd coup against Mr Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, his supporters set up two camps in Cairo, one a set of tents near the university in the west, the other, larger one in the middle-class district of Nasr City in the east, centred on the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque. There the furious refuseniks—most, though not all, aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist organisation of which Mr Morsi is a leader—remained throughout the holy month of Ramadan, which ended on August 7th. The camps were noisy, somewhat disruptive to the city’s traffic and increasingly vexatious to the army-led regime that had come to power in the coup.

Government officials promised action against the protesters, who included women and children; they said it would be gentler than the clashes at the time of the coup, which left scores of pro-Brotherhood protesters dead. The police assault on the morning of August 14th, though, backed up by army units, was one of stunning brutality, complete with automatic weapons and sniper fire. The university camp was cleared first, the Nasr City camp second; by the end of the day field hospitals were full of the dead and wounded. As The Economist went to press, the ministry of health had the death toll for the two sites at 464; other estimates put it hundreds higher, and thousands were wounded. Violence flared up as far afield as Alexandria and Aswan (see map). At the end of the day, when most of the country found itself under a curfew, hopes for a peaceful resolution to Egypt’s bitter post-coup polarisation were as ruined as the camps.

All know what they want

At the time of the coup, Egypt’s new rulers promised speedy moves towards a new constitution and new elections. That transition will now be even harder to pull off. The economy, badly buffeted by two-and-a-half years of unrest, is less likely than ever to find a respite; tourists are ever less likely to visit. The majority which wanted Mr Morsi gone, if not necessarily the army returned, is reinforced in its passionate nationalism and loathing for the arrogant piety of the Brothers. The Islamists, for their part, can now add the fire of martyrdom to their grievance of stolen electoral legitimacy. A slide into prolonged strife, possibly even civil war, may be hard to avoid.

A central demand of the protesters who led the country’s February 2011 revolution against the rule of Hosni Mubarak was that laws enforcing a state of emergency be suspended. They are now back, for a month at least. Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood targeted government buildings and police stations in several cities on the day the camps were cleared. In the village of Kerdasa near Cairo they lined up four policemen and executed them in a hail of machinegun bullets. At the camps, eyewitness accounts and video footage suggest that small groups of Islamist gunmen returned the security forces’ fire vigorously. Egypt’s interior minister says 43 policemen were killed in the course of the day, 18 of them in Nasr City.

The police and army were not the only targets of Islamist anger. Mobs vented their rage against their Christian compatriots, who had understandably backed the coup. In the southern city of Minya and elsewhere they set fire to some 18 churches; a Jesuit cultural centre and a Franciscan school were torched; shops and homes of Christians were attacked. It was a sharp escalation in an already worsening trend.

Another bad omen was the resignation of Mohamed ElBaradei, Egypt’s acting vice-president. Mr ElBaradei, who won the Nobel prize in 2005 for his work as the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, has been critical of both the Muslim Brotherhood and the army. His principled liberalism has won few friends in a starkly divided country, but his decision to join the army-backed government that replaced Mr Morsi raised hopes that it could be steered on to a moderate course. In his strongly worded letter of resignation, Mr ElBaradei said that his counsel of patience and restraint, and his fears as to what might happen if other paths were followed, had been ignored. “Violence only begets more violence,” he warned.

The violence of August 14th followed moves by the government which worried many of the revolutionaries who took to Cairo’s Tahrir Square in 2011 with a liberal nation as their goal. General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, army chief, minister of defence and de facto head of the government, made a speech on July 24th that called for a mandate from the public to deal with the Brotherhood protests “with whatever force necessary”. On August 13th the list of 27 provincial governors replacing those chosen by Mr Morsi also caused consternation. Two-thirds of them were either army or police generals. A number had glaring records of hostility to the 2011 revolution.

The deaf cries of the country

After last month’s coup, Egypt’s state-owned media, along with much of its independent press, reverted to the role they had played under Mr Mubarak: that of government cheerleader. They took to describing Cairo’s Islamist protesters as either terrorists or the Brotherhood’s paid dupes. While often based in reality, reports of Islamist violence were blown wildly out of proportion. The constant hype amounted to a drumroll for the security forces to “respond to the popular will” and to “cleanse” Cairo’s streets of criminal scum.

Even without this shrill prompting, much of Egypt’s public fervently wishes to see the back of the Brothers and their kind. Despite having won parliamentary elections in 2011 and the presidential race in 2012, the Brotherhood suffered a collapse in its popularity during the first half of this year. General Sisi’s move to turf it out of power last month was facilitated by a massive outpouring of popular discontent and widespread civil disobedience.

Much of the latest violence across the country has seen ordinary citizens pitted against enraged Islamists. Residents of the areas occupied by Brotherhood protesters in Cairo cheered the police on as they cleared the camps. Opinion polls suggest that, before the violence in the camps, Egypt’s army was, as it has long been, the country’s most popular institution; it will probably remain so afterwards. Its assumption of power raised widespread optimism. By contrast, support for the Brotherhood’s protests appeared to be limited to about 30%.

That level of enduring support, though, means that for Egypt to attempt electoral democracy again, the Brothers need to be part of the process. With voices like Mr ElBaradei’s now stifled within the regime, that coaxing is hard to imagine. Instead there is a danger that the country’s rulers may be tempted to exclude the Brotherhood entirely. Cairo’s more politically sophisticated cafés echo with talk of Algeria two decades back. When that country’s generals cancelled a 1991 election after Islamists won the first round they sparked a decade-long civil war that left somewhere between 50,000 and 200,000 dead.

The Brotherhood has been almost entirely excluded from national life before. Egypt’s “deep state”—the powerful security, intelligence and judicial apparatus that grew up unscrutinised in the Mubarak years—excelled at hounding the Muslim Brotherhood. That power base has survived post-revolutionary unrest in pretty good shape, if buried a bit deeper still. Its ties with wealthy Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have helped secure the post-coup regime aid to the tune of $12 billion, enough to tide the country over for many months and to make up for any aid America may eventually withhold if, faced with blood on the streets, the Obama administration abandons its insistence that the ousting of Mr Morsi was not a coup, a posture that allows military aid to keep flowing.

The black flight of the crows

The Brotherhood thinks that a faction like that of the so-called éradicateurs in the Algerian army has come to dominate the current regime, dedicated to purging Islamism from the country by whatever means necessary. The Brothers have long feared such a development. During Mr Morsi’s year-long tenure as president they sucked up to and pampered the security establishment; co-opting it was much more central to their plans than finding ways to work with a non-Islamist political opposition they deemed irrelevant. But it did not work, say many now-regretful Brothers. They found themselves subtly undermined and thwarted by Egypt’s courts and interior ministry.

Since the July coup a score of Islamist leaders have been held in prison, with several, including Mr Morsi, charged on patently flimsy grounds. While the government may have seen this as a way to exert pressure for the Brotherhood to call off its protests, many Islamists saw it as a signal that Egypt’s new rulers intended to sideline them for good. This is one reason why Mr Morsi’s faction rejected any suggestion of compromise, insisting instead on demands that were non-starters for their foes: that Mr Morsi should be returned to office and that both the rump, Islamist-dominated legislature and the Islamist-written (but referendum-approved) 2012 constitution be reinstituted.

There were other reasons for their obstinacy. As its spokesmen merrily admitted, the Brotherhood’s abrupt return to beleaguered opposition put them “back in our comfort zone.” Not only did the Brothers no longer have to answer for the policy failures that turned much of the Egyptian public against them. Their determined sit-ins became a powerful symbol of resistance for Islamists throughout Egypt and beyond. The Brotherhood’s high-handedness while in power had alienated many other Islamist factions. Now they felt obliged to rally to Mr Morsi’s cause.

A nation in need of healing
For their inhabitants, who through the spiritually intense fasting of Ramadan included a rolling cast of tens of thousands coming for days or weeks at a time, Cairo’s tent cities seemed a Utopian vision of a perfect Islamic state. To outside visitors they looked quaint and fanatical, as non-stop amplified sermons broadcast an increasingly skewed understanding of events, and primed the faithful to die as martyrs in Mr Morsi’s cause. Despite little evidence that their message resonated much in the rest of Egypt beyond core supporters, the protesters seemed utterly convinced of victory.

In the wake of the brutal police offensive, the Brotherhood’s claims of casualties rose as high as 5,000. Such numbers are not credible; they reflect a need to demonise their persecutors and to justify defeat. The brothers know they will no longer have the bully pulpit of their massively televised protests. In future, Egypt’s generals will have stronger control of the narrative. Meanwhile the threat of a sweeping crackdown looms, made easier by the long periods of detention without trial allowed under the revived emergency laws.

This does not mean plain sailing for Egypt’s deep state. Appalled by the loss of life, and chagrined that their warnings against drastic action were ignored, Egypt’s long-standing allies in the West are now likely to shun General Sisi and his government. Pressure to hasten elections will be brought to bear by many countries (though probably not Saudi Arabia) and will include insistence that the Brothers be somehow accommodated. If the regime wished to accede to such demands, though, it would be hard pressed to do so.

Even before the crackdown, the generals’ transition plans had run into trouble. The composition of a 50-person body meant to speed through a new constitution has roused ire, just as the make-up of a similar body under Mr Morsi did. Islamist factions that have thrown in their lot with the regime balk at the puny representation being offered. They have threatened to veto the process unless their demands for strong Islamist wording are met. Fair elections seem implausible right now.

A price of blood and tears

Many Egyptians assume that much of this will be rendered moot by the backlash of Islamist violence they feel sure will come. Egyptian security forces are already fighting a nearly full-blown insurgency in the lawless north-east corner of Sinai and taking casualties almost every day. The Brotherhood’s allies include radical Islamist factions that mounted a spate of terrorist attacks two decades ago, culminating in the massacre of 58 tourists at Luxor in 1997. Some members of the Brotherhood itself may now be prepared to take up arms; the group’s leaders warn that they can no longer control rowdier elements.

All this leads some liberals and centrists to fear that an éradicateur faction along the lines of that which the Islamists fear is already installed will indeed come to power. That would amount to a full-scale counter-revolution, ending what is left of the optimism for a more open society generated by the Arab spring. Perhaps, as so often in the past, Egypt will find a way to muddle through. But the situation, which looked a great deal worse after the coup of 2013 than it did after the somewhat-similar-looking revolution in 2011, now looks even less hopeful. In 2012 one Egyptian commentator suggested that the country’s future was to be either Turkey or Pakistan. On August 14th an Egyptian who tweets under the name Salama Moussa suggested that his countrymen, “in the grip of madness”, saw a yet grimmer dichotomy: Tiananmen Square or Somalia

Has Egypt become Israel’s best friend?

RAFAH, (PIC)– The Egyptian authorities told Palestinian officials at the Rafah crossing that the terminal would be closed in both directions until further notice.

Responsible sources in Gaza told the PIC reporter that the Egyptian authorities claimed that the closure was due to the security conditions and tensions in Egypt in general and in Sinai Peninsula in particular especially after 24 Egyptian policemen were killed in an attack on two buses in Egyptian Rafah on Monday morning.

The Rafah crossing is experiencing its worst days since the end of last June after the Egyptian military ousted the elected president Mohammed Morsi. The Egyptian authorities close the crossing for several days then open it partially for a few hours for certain categories of people.

Egypt in Tumult as Court Orders Mubarak Freed – By David F. Kirkpatrick

CAIRO — A court on Monday ordered the release of former President Hosni Mubarak, and for the first time it was conceivable he might go free — a measure of how far the tumult now shaking Egypt has rolled back the sweeping changes and soaring hopes that followed his exit two and a half years ago.

Few legal analysts thought a release was likely, at least in the coming weeks. But under the government installed last month by Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, they say, it is no longer a foregone conclusion that prosecutors will continue to find reasons to detain the former autocrat, who was arrested after the uprising against his rule in 2011.

Some analysts said that even the possibility of Mr. Mubarak’s release, previously unthinkable, provided another sign of the return of his authoritarian style of government.

Since the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi, the interim government has brought back not only prominent faces of the Mubarak era but signature elements of that autocratic state, including an “emergency law” removing the right to a trial and curbs on police abuse, the appointment of generals as governors across the provinces and moves to outlaw the Muslim Brotherhood again as a terrorist threat.

The Brotherhood’s spiritual leader, Mohamed Badie, was arrested early Tuesday. A private television network that supports General Sisi broadcast footage of Mr. Badie in custody.

The police scarcely bothered to offer a credible explanation for the deaths of three dozen Morsi supporters in custody over the weekend. After repeatedly shifting stories, they ultimately said the detainees had suffocated from tear gas during a failed escape attempt. But photographs taken at the morgue on Monday showed that at least two had been badly burned from the shoulders up and that others bore evidence of torture.

Security officers have a new bounce in their step. They are again pulling men from their cars at checkpoints for interrogation because they have beards, or dealing out arbitrary beatings with a sense of impunity — Mubarak-era hallmarks that had receded in recent years. Among civilians, even those outside the Muslim Brotherhood, fear of the police is growing.

Badr Abdelatty, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, denied any resemblance between the new government and Mr. Mubarak’s. “The emergency law is just for one month and for one objective: fighting terrorism,” he said, using the term that the new government applies to both civil disobedience and acts of violence by Islamist opponents of the military takeover. “The only way to fight terrorism is to apply the rule of law, and some emergency measures for just one month, to bring back law and order.”

More than 1,000 Brotherhood members and other supporters of Mr. Morsi have died since Wednesday in a police crackdown, and his ouster has set off a wave of retaliatory violence from his supporters, mainly targeting churches around the country and security forces in the relatively lawless northern Sinai. In the latest episode there, militants killed 25 police officers and wounded 3 others on Monday in an attack on their minibuses. Officials said the bodies were face down with bound hands, evidently assassinated.

Egyptian state and private television networks, all pro-government now, broadcast images of the bodies’ return to Cairo, sometimes under a heading about Egypt’s fight against terrorism. The Muslim Brotherhood, which has denounced those killings, held protests and marches by thousands of its supporters in Cairo and across the country, as it has every day for the six weeks since Mr. Morsi’s ouster.

Some analysts said Monday that the new government was arguably more authoritarian than Mr. Mubarak’s. “The Mubarak state was actually less repressive than what we are seeing now,” said Shadi Hamid, research director for the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar. “In terms of sheer number of people killed, what we are seeing is unprecedented for Egypt.”

But where Mr. Mubarak’s supporters were diffident or self-serving, Mr. Hamid said, General Sisi “has the fervent backing of millions of ordinary Egyptians, many of whom think the army has not been sufficiently brutal against the Muslim Brotherhood.”

“That is what makes this new authoritarian order much more resilient and harder to dislodge,” he said.

One human rights advocate said the symbolism of Mr. Mubarak’s release might help. “For someone like me, it would be greatly helpful,” said Hossam Bahgat, founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and one of only a few advocates who have questioned General Sisi’s declaration that he was advancing the 2011 revolution by removing the elected president.

“It is better to end the theatrics and have some clarity,” Mr. Bahgat argued, if only to convince former revolutionaries of the danger that the authoritarianism of “the Mubarak state” may be re-emerging in a different guise.

Judges have dismissed many charges originally brought against Mr. Mubarak, including directing the killing of protesters. But the previous post-Mubarak governments always made clear that they would keep finding new allegations to keep the former leader behind bars. The council of generals that succeeded Mr. Mubarak was too desperate to placate the public and preserve its own legitimacy to release him, and Mr. Morsi campaigned on promises to keep him locked up.

But the Sisi government has no such insecurity about its power, or hostility to Mr. Mubarak. Some members of political factions that had previously joined rallies for Mr. Mubarak’s incarceration, or even execution, said they believed the public did not care so much anymore.

“I don’t think people are paying the slightest attention,” said Hussein Gohar, a spokesman for the Social Democratic Party. “And if it happens, it will not have anything close to the impact it would have had a year ago,” he said of Mr. Mubarak’s release, in part “because people have moved on” and in part “because of the paradigm shift to support for the army.”

Besides, Mr. Gohar said, he did not think the new military-backed authorities would allow massive protests against Mr. Mubarak, once an Air Force general. “At the end of the day, Mubarak is part of the military,” Mr. Gohar said. “He is one of them.”

The interim government bears other resemblances to the Mubarak government. General Sisi, the defense minister, was Mr. Mubarak’s head of military intelligence. The figurehead president, Adli Mansour, a judge, was appointed to a top court under Mr. Mubarak. The interior minister was a high-ranking official under Mr. Mubarak. The foreign minister is a senior ambassador who served in Washington. The finance minister is an economist who worked closely with Mr. Mubarak’s son and designated successor, Gamal, who became a senior figure in the old ruling party. And the justice minister is another judge appointed to a top court under Mr. Mubarak.

But many pointed to crucial differences between now and the Mubarak era.

Mr. Gohar of the Social Democrats said the revolution had inculcated a new demand for participation and accountability that would prevent a return to the old order. “There is still a deep state, of course, but you cannot go back,” he said, adding that continued pro-Morsi protests demonstrated Egyptians’ new assertiveness. “People are not going to be passive anymore and just accept what is handed to them by the government.”

Mr. Bahgat argued that General Sisi’s government might rely on the same people, institutions and tactics that Mr. Mubarak did, but said it was a new authoritarianism, not a restoration. This time, he said, there is a much greater emphasis on “the propaganda machine,” suggesting that attention to public opinion may be the main legacy of the 2011 revolt.

Many analysts say that whatever its inclinations, the government is unlikely to risk even a small public backlash at this volatile moment by releasing Mr. Mubarak. If it does not, his continued incarceration opens the intriguing possibility that he and Mr. Morsi, now detained at an unknown location, might end up in jail together. Mr. Morsi is no stranger to jail: he was there as a political prisoner just before Mr. Mubarak’s ouster

Egypt going down path of Algeria’s bloody war – by David Blair

Telegraph of London August 21 2013

The generals are masters of Cairo and their foot soldiers are cannon fodder in the deserts of Sinai. The killing of 26 policemen near Egypt’s eastern frontier provides another vivid sign of how violence is taking hold across the Arab world’s most populous country.

 

But this incident also strikes an echo of the first stirrings of civil war in another Arab nation where the army seized power at the expense of radical Islamists. Two decades ago, the ambush and murder of policemen signalled the onset of armed revolt in Algeria. Often, busloads of officers were waylaid by gunmen and shot on the spot, which seems to be what happened in Egypt this week.

 

Before long, Algeria’s Islamist insurgents had graduated to attacking the army, planting bombs in the capital and, worst of all, carrying out night-time massacres in defenceless villages across the ”bled”, as the country’s coastal landscape is known.

 

When this singularly brutal civil war finally subsided in the early years of this century, perhaps 100,000 people had been killed. A shadowy cabal of generals, impossible to dislodge and known to Algerians as ”le pouvoir”, still pulled the strings of power. ”Once again,” reads a history of Algeria’s conflict, ”le pouvoir had exhibited its enduring dominance as it recaptured the instruments of authority through direct control of the state.”

 

The bloodshed began after Islamist party the Islamic Salvation Front won the first round of Algeria’s election in December 1991. Instead of allowing it to take power, the army mounted a coup in January 1992, cancelling the second round of elections and seizing control of the government. The Islamists, denied the chance to win office via the ballot box, decided that force was the only way.

 

The parallel between these tragic events in Algeria and Egypt’s recent experience is startling. For the Islamic Salvation Front, read the Muslim Brotherhood, and a pattern falls into place.

 

In Cairo on July 3, the army overthrew an elected president from the Muslim Brotherhood and assumed de facto power. On Sunday, the cabinet appointed by the generals debated whether to ban the Brotherhood and revive the prohibition that held sway until Hosni Mubarak’s downfall in 2011.

 

If this step is taken, Egypt’s new rulers will have adopted the Algerian solution to the challenge of political Islam. This can be summed up as ”deny, ban and suppress”: namely, deny the Islamists power, even if they win a fair election; ban their parties, however popular they might be; and lock up their supporters. Hundreds of Brotherhood figures are behind bars in Egypt and the official death toll from the operation to clear the protest camps and break up demonstrations is nearing 1000.

 

If the regime now adopts the last piece of the Algerian recipe and restores the ban on the Brotherhood, the Islamists might feel compelled to take matters into their own hands, follow their Algerian counterparts and choose armed insurrection instead.

 

Fortunately, there are good reasons to believe this will be avoided. For all the obvious parallels, there are vital differences between events in Egypt and Algeria. The most striking is that Algeria’s Islamists were never allowed to take power. In Egypt, by contrast, the Muslim Brotherhood won both parliamentary and presidential elections – and Mohamed Mursi duly became Egypt’s president in June last year. No one stood in the way of the Brotherhood assuming the power granted by its election victories. The problem was Mursi’s lamentable performance in office. The key moment came last November when he issued a decree that effectively swept aside all legal restraints on his authority and, with one blow, repudiated the ideals of the revolution against dictatorship.

 

Incidentally, remember how the Brotherhood promised not to run for the presidency after Mubarak’s fall? What if it had kept this pledge? The first president of the new Egypt would have been, say, Ahmed Shafik, a hold-over from the old regime, or perhaps Amr Moussa, a former head of the Arab League. The new leader would probably have failed spectacularly, overwhelmed by crisis. What would have happened next? Millions of Egyptians would have implored the Brotherhood to accept power as the only alternative to army rule.

 

Instead, the Brotherhood broke its promise – and now Mursi is out and the generals are in. After decades of preparation for Mubarak’s fall, Mursi and his colleagues dug their own political graves. Algeria’s Islamists had the mantle of victimhood. Their Egyptian counterparts, by contrast, succumbed to hubris.

 

But the Brotherhood’s bedrock of popular support, constructed over decades, remains intact. Given time, it could recover. In essence, the Algeria option means excluding Islamists from politics, regardless of how many votes they might win. For Egypt’s rulers to ban the Brotherhood – which was capable of winning elections as recently as 2012 – would be the height of folly. Mursi fell victim to his own hubris. The generals must not do the same – for Algeria provides a dreadful warning.