Archive of ‘causes’ category
I never really met Abdel Monem. Never was interested to meet the "moderate" Muslim Brotherhood..ehh..Brother?? or is it member? anyway…. But that doesn't mean we are not connected, nor that this story shouldn't be told. Let's just say that this is a testimonial, a cautionary tale without any heroes, a reminder so to speak to those who believe in freedom and support it that not all is always what it seems to be.
Let's rewind time a little, a few months back, to the day when I decided that I would stop blogging. Shall we?
It was 2 hours before the BBC interview began, when my farewell post was published. They were supposed to be here to talk to me about blogging, and whether or not it was making a difference in Egypt, and blah blah blabbity blah. I already knew all of their questions (those rarely change), the same way I already knew all of my answers to them. I have said them so many times they were etched on my frontal lobe, and I always gave them exactly the story they wanted without lying. They were perfect soundbites. And they should've been. I've had so much practice over the months. I even knew who else they probably interviewed alongside me. The List was always the same: Hossam , Elijah , Issandr, Wael , Nora , alaa or manal . Those were the ones comfortable with english you see. With the other ones you needed translators, and really, who wanted to go to the trouble?
This, like all of my other interviews on camera, was going to have my face hidden. I pondered the futility of doing that for a minute, since I was quitting blogging anyway. Maybe Giving the Sandmonkey a face would be a smart move, especially with that nice police car parked under my house for the third consecutive week. But I brushed off the idea completely, because 1) I knew they were following me since the day of that protest, so it might not have anything to do with being the sandmonkey , and 2) Maybe all they needed to indict me is a direct link to the blog, which until now I haven't given them, so why bother now?, and most importantly 3) I never did this for fame. I never knew this blog would be so successful, and I honestly didn't intend to have this as a full time project. Being the Sandmonkey didn't define me, and I had no intention to let it. I didn't want to be famous. I just wanted to be heard.
Unfortunately, this wasn't the case with everybody. Others were in it precisely for themselves, to perpetuate an image, to create an Icon of themselves, to become "legends" of the egyptian blogsphere, which is probably the most pathetic of goals there is. But you learn to ignore. To let go. You, after all, had to work with these people. You maybe the illegitimate child of the egyptian blogsphere, but this was your family, whether you or they liked it or not. Their fights were your fights. That was the case, at least until they started to fight fake battles.
That's when Abdel Monem enters the story.
Abdel Monem was a journalist, and a politically active member of the muslim brotherhood. He was also a blogger. His blog wasn't really of any consequence to speak of, but he was friends with Alaa & Manal, Nora, Hossam, and the majority of the February 30th movement (February 30th, get it?). I never fully understood what was so special about him, except that he was a "moderate" voice amongst the Muslim Brotherhood, and by moderate they meant that he didn't want to see all the leftists dead. He was the MB member they could be friends with, and the kind of person they could show to someone like me and go " See, not all the MB members are bad. Here is one who shakes hands with unveiled women, and he talks about freedom for everybody and stuff. You are the one who is too narrow minded. You are the one who dehumanizes them. We are all in this together", while wagging their fingers in my face.
Except that we were not all in this together. And they were being useful idiots. But we will get to that part later.
Anyway, that sense of comradery that they felt for him, accompanied with some of them's desire to forge links and good relations with the "Inevitably-sooner -or-later-coming-to-power Muslim Brotherhood", made them feel as if they needed to do something for their friend. But they knew that no one cared internationally about a muslim brotherhood member getting arrested, even a so called moderate one. So they were like :"Wait a minute? Doesn't he have a blog? That makes him a jailed blogger! People internationally will care about that! We can help our friend that way!" Nevermind that he wasn't arrested for his blogging, nevermind that his blog was of literally no consequence or impact, there was a blog, and that makes him a blogger and therefore a jailed blogger. End of discussion, Honesty be damned.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how the Free Monem campaign got started!
Now before I go any further, here is a caveat: I do not think it is right for people to get arrested for exercising their political rights, nor am I against the MB getting their own party. And I am definitely not pro people getting arrested for merely being Muslim Brotherhood members (maybe pro getting their heads checked, just kidding), so I am not for Abdel Monem getting arrested and despite it all, I would like him to stay free. However, there is a fundamental difference between someone getting arrested for being politically active in an illegal group, and someone getting arrested for writing on their blog. That difference isn't exactly hard to distinguish I believe.
Two days after I stopped blogging, I was in DC, and all hell had broken loose.
Apparently my little goodbye post caused a lot of furor. I thought it would be just like a couple of blogs writing goodbye posts and linking to me and that's it, like dozens of others who quit before me. I was gravely mistaken. I underestimated the media, and their hunger for a sexy story. Blogs and bloggers, at the time, were sexy topics that made sexy stories. And apparently bloggers getting silenced was the story equivalent of Angelina Jolie sexy. Who knew?
So, the next thing I know, AFP wrote a story about it, and was then followed by AP. Then the AFP story got translated into arabic, and then it was syndicated into numerous arabic language publications that never had the name Sandmonkey in it before. My mailbox was flooded by requests for interviews, with reporters whom I am friends with demanding exclusives, reporters I used to know referring me to their friends and asking if I wouldn't mind talking to them, two e-mails from Charles Levinson, whom I refused to talk to after writing a story about me that was just short of disclosing my real name 2 years ago, begging for another chance, and not to mention the thousands of other e-mails from fans. It was insane. And then it got a little crazier, when I received a link to an article written by MB apologist and propagandist Ibrahim Al Hudaiby , declaring solidarity with "The Sandmonkey" that was published on Ikhwan Web. I was supported by the MB. Who could've imagined?
(Of course I understood that this was a way for the MB to harness the media attention to their own causes, which could've only been done by Ibrahim. He is, after all, their english language propaganda guy. AUC educated and one-time-Student government president, he knows how to talk and handle western media. He is also the translator for the MB supreme Leader Mahdy Akef with foreign Media, and you know what's funny? What Mahdy says in arabic, and what Ibrahim translates into english, are completely different things. But that's another story.)
But through out it all, I maintained radio silence. I just wanted the entire thing to go away. The only interview I ever gave at the time was to Pamela from Atlas Shrugged, and that only happened because we were meeting for drinks in New York and she surprised me with her interview request, so I agreed. Plus, I figured it's not gonna be heard that many people anyway (was wrong on that one. never underestimate the blogsphere). But besides that, I kept my mouth shut. I gave no interviews to neither strangers nor acquaintances. Charles ended up interviewing Issandr for his story about me, which I thought was hilarious.
It wasn't until I felt that the people definitely got the wrong impression from me quitting that I wrote the follow-up explanatory post (which of course was completely ignored by the media- who wants a story about a bloggers who were getting a big head because of media attention anyway?), and which also included the idea of that organization for protection of bloggers (which started nicely but ended up crashing, but that's also another story) and stopping the exploitation of their causes by other organizations (as was happening with the Free Kareem campaign at the time). For me this was the next step, a cause worth fighting for. Something pure, honest and that could bring people- from all political spectrums- together. And to think I actually thought it could work.
I am pretty naive sometimes.
* a few months ago*
G: So, what do you think of that Free Momen campaign?
Me: I think it's the dumbest and most dangerous thing that any of us have ever made.
G: How so?
Me: Because they are campaiging for him as if he is jailed for blogging, and he isn't. And just the other day I was reading about another MB member that got arrested, and who also had a blog, and suddenly he is too "the jailed blogger blah blah blah". Now, all the Muslim Brotherhood needs to have people campiagn for their members is to ask them to have blogs, and suddenly everybody is a hero of free speech and has to be defended by us.
G: I swear to god that's what I told them. That this way we are breached by the Brotherhood and playing to their hand. But nobody will listen.
Me: But they are idiots. If they keep this up, Egypt will become known as that country that jails bloggers, and nobody will care. We will be like Tunisia in the eyes of the world. It won't be a worthy cause to release a blogger jailed in Egypt for his/her opinion, because it will be normal. It will be "what they do there in Egypt".
G: I know.
At the same time, the Free Monem movement was on full swing. Posts about "War on bloggers" were being written. Monem's name was mentioned in the UN's Citizen Journalists conference on the international day for free press in the same breath as Abdel Karim. And the Free Monem campaign got launched on that same day. It was PR blitz and it had Monem's name and face all over it. It was fantastic.
About a month later, Abdel Monem was released. He was now an internationally known face. a Hero of free speech. A blogger who was also a moderate member of the MB. A legend was created, and it had mass appeal to all kinds of intellectuals and so called Middle-east experts. No wonder when Marc Lynch came to Egypt last October, meeting Abdel Monem was on top of his agenda. After all, this guy was imprisoned for his views and opinions and is a moderate voice amongst the Brotherhood. That's street cred and legitimacy you just can't buy.
Fast forward to 2 weeks ago. The Muslim Brotherhood release the final draft of their Political Party's platform: The Platform is, as expected, anti-Christian and anti-women (Prohibiting both from ever becoming either President or Prime Minister). Oh, and also the chief moderate Ikhwan voice, Essam el Aryan, got sacked from the leadership. And guess what? Nobody said anything. Not a single person who participated in the Free Monem campaign even mentioned it on their blogs. Neither did Abdel Monem, but he didn't stop there.
See, there was a group of MB bloggers who were a voice of dissent amongst the Brotherhood, who didn't like the Platform nor the way some things were run and presented by the leadership. Some, taking special issue with the MB's official website, Ikhwanonline, for their blatant stealing of content from their blogs without giving them credit, created a counter website called Ikhwan Offline as a counter protest. Those bloggers all looked to Abdel Monem as a reformer and a leader, someone they can trust. They discoverd shortly how wrong they were.
Abdel Monem went to the High leadership of the MB and snitched on everybody . He gave them every single name of every single dissenter and what they are saying. The leadership immedietly cracked down on the dissenter, using with some the whip (threats of expulsion from the Brotherhood prompted the runners of the site to shut it down) and with others the carrot ( the ones with any talent were hired by Ikhwan Online as writers with significant salaries). When news of his betrayal of his so-called brothers reached MB member from Saudi and the Gulf and prompted them to give Monem furious phone calls for what he did, Monem's response was : "Listen people. I am an internationally known blogger, and have a big name, and will not deal with your nonsense", and hung up on them. It was also found out that our "Hero" has been- and still is- on the Payroll of jailed MB financier and second man in command Khairat el Shater, and Khairat is definitely from the conservative part of the MB, so I guess it makes sense that those who are paid by him to follow his line, no?
Now, is anyone talking about that?
Did any of those who were behind the campaign issue anything even close to a repudiation to Abdel Monem or the MB's platform?
Did any of those who defended him apologize for making a star out of him, thus making him a trustworthy figure to those kids he betrayed?
Did any of them even acknowledge, that maybe, just maybe, they were wrong about this guy and defending him in the first place?
The Silence is- at the risk of sounding cliche- deafening.
You see, I think they owe the world an apology. I think they should apologize for deceiving people about him. I think they should apologize for making an international symbol of him, and one that is dishonest at best. I think they should say that they were wrong about that. I think they should say that they were wrong about him. That they misjudged. That they miscalculated. THAT THEY WERE WRONG. That they acted like the Useful idiots I warned them of being, and that they were used by someone who claimed to be a moderate, but when push came to shove, he not only followed the MB line, he sold out his brothers who weren't, and who trusted him.That maybe, just maybe, they were responsible for this, and that they need to atone for it. They gave this guy fame, They made him a hero when they knew he wasn't and now he will use that and milk it to his ends and those of the MB, and that will be all on their hands.
But of course they won't admit their fault or apologize. At best they will just ignore this post, keep their silence and hope it goes away, and at worst they will view it as a personal attack on them by me, and will wish to retaliate. Doesn't matter either way, cause whatever they do, they know that what I said here was the truth. And nothing they say or do will change that.
Me and Abdel Monem don't know each other, and I am glad of that. I am glad to not know him, to not be acquainted with him, let alone be friends with him, because as I suspected, he couldn't be trusted. Just like Ibrahim el Hudaiby, just like every other single moderate face of the Brotherhood. At best they have no power nor influence, and at worst they are fakers and propagandist, preying on whatever media outlets and useful idiots from the left and the right who want to believe the Fantasy that the MB could become moderate and be the voice of the egyptian opposition. For the final time I will say it: It's not going to happen. They will use you as their defenders and their mouthpieces to their own ends, and then they will betray you, the same way they always did (Hey, remember the 2005 parliamentary elections? How many Kefayah members did the MB vote into power? yeah,thought so!). I don't fault Abdel Monem for what he did. It is to be expected from him. The fault lies on those who supported him, who should know better but chose to ignore reality, and then falsified it to help him. Even if they don't come clean for what they did, maybe, just maybe, they have learned their lesson out of this.
But I doubt it!
Abdel Karim Soliman, famously now known as Karim Amer, who got jailed for "disdain for religion" and "insulting the president" on his blog, is reportedly getting tortured by the Prison authorities.
Karim who is an Egyptian
blogger sentenced to prison for 4 years for 'vilifying religions' and
defaming the president was tortured & that was ordered and
supervised by an investigation officer in Borg Alarab prison. Karim was
also ordered into a solitary cell where he was assaulted again and had
one of his teeth broken; this assault's date came to mark one year
since Karim was sent to jail.
Karim reported his being tortured in prison to his lawyers in
the Arabic Network and Hisham Mubarak Center, the torture came at the
hand of another prisoner and a prison guard, ordered by Midhat Samir
one of the prison's investigations officers. This came to pass after
Karim has uncovered some corruption act in the prison. Karim was
punished and tortured severely which resulted in several injuries in
addition to a broken tooth. He was deprived from officially reporting
the incident against the accused officer as well as denying him the
right to document these injuries in a medical report.
The Arabic Network for Human Rights information and Hisham Mubarak
Centre for Law mentioned in their communiqué to the Prosecutor-General
that the assault on Karim is manifested in the following:
- Being beaten inside
ward Number 22 where he is imprisoned at the time of the assault, the
battery was launched by another prisoner and a prison guard, in the
presence of Officer Midhat Samir and under his supervision. Samir also
gave the green light for the assault which resulted in a broken tooth
"upper right canine tooth" along with a number of bruises and abrasions
on various parts of the body.
- Transferring Karim to a disciplinary cell where he was
handcuffed and had his feet strapped into shackles; he was beaten up
again which caused him more injuries.
- Another inmate prisoner was brought over where they stripped
him out of clothes and beat him severely in front of prisoner Kareem
Soliman as they also threatened to inflict upon him the same
punishment, if he didn't mind his own business.
I wish I could say I am surprised by this, but I have heard and seen so much of this, that, as horribly as that sounds, it kind of becomes expected. We are ruled and governed by Monsters who have no respect for our human rights or dignity. They just waited until his story wasn't that "Hot" anymore and went ahead with it. In this country, with the exception of those of us who believe in human rights, who is gonna defend him? A guy who insulted the prophet getting tortured? The public response is gonna be : "Good. That's exactly the kind of person who should be tortured! Make an example out of him." God knows that the day of his sentencing, and I was there for the majority of the trial, the public outside were debating how he should be killed. Some were like, "he should be hanged", others were like, "No, we need to go islamic on this. Behead him.", while others demanded that people have some common sense and instead of being all barbaric with the beheading, they should "just stab him". And that's the average egyptian on the street. Imagine the people in prison's reaction. And then ask yourself: would the sadistic bastards who run our prison system think twice about torturing this guy? They might've during the trial, when the spotlight was on him. But now? Forget about it. He is fairgame, and his jailers know it.
And the most telling part of all..
It is to mention that Karim since he was imprisoned is subjected to a
systemic discriminatory practice and maltreatment in Borg Alarb prison
on the hands of the prison's officers. He mentioned to his lawyer that
the maltreatment was always coupled with this phrase "This is until you
do change your mind"!!
That's the message they are sending to all of us by this. Received and decoded guys. Thanks, you sick sadistic animals.
So has decreed the Grand Sheikh of Al Azhar Mohamed Sayyed "Ok" Tantawi, as islamic punishment for those bad journalists who spread rumors about the president and the country.
"God will not respond to the invocation of the arrogant and
pretenders who accuse others with the ugliest vice and unsubstantiated
charges," said Tantawi during a religious celebration Monday attended
by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and broadcast live on television.
"The Islamic Sharia (law) subjected all the people to be equally
punished for the crime of libel which is a flagrant aggression on the
virtuous men and women," he added. Tantawi's comments were published in
Al-Akhbar newspaper Wednesday and in Sawt Al-Azhar, the mouthpiece of
Al-Azhar, the following day.
During his speech, Tantawi seemed to argue for serious punishment as
well, quoting a verse from the Quran saying that those who accused
women of adultery without necessary proof were to receive "80
He said his example involved women but added that "libel is also
applicable to men … this punishment is set by God to protect the
honor of men and women from bad talk that hurts dignity and honor."
You know why we call him "Sayyed OK" in Egypt? Because before he became Grand Sheikh of Al Azhar (appointed by President Mubarak) he used to be Egypt's mufti, and he was famous for his ability to issue any Fatwa you would like as long as you pay him. The man is such a joke, that during the presidential elections he issued a Fatwa- when the opposition was trying to get the people to boycott the elections in order to say it was illegitimate- that egyptians have to go and particpate in the elections as their islamic duty and that it's haram not to do so, because that's suppressing testimony and god forbids that and hates those who suppress their testimony. No one, of course, listened. This is the man, who under his reign, Al Azhar became a place for breast-feeding fatwas and debates over if an actor gets married on TV, is he counted as married in real life, amongst other fun fantastic very relevant debates. And now he wants to lash journalists who libel the good honorable men of this government 80 lashes. 80.
and you thought journalists had it rough in your country.
Tantawi, do us all a favor: RESIGN!
Saad El Deen Ibrahim is finally admitting that he is on a self-imposed exile outside of Egypt, fearing his arrest by the authorities. Good. I just hoped that he would've informed the Press that the American Ambassador is the one that relayed the message to him from the egyptian authorities and urged him not to come back. But I guess he didn't want to make a big stink about the fact that the egyptian authorities treat him like an american stooge to the point of using the US ambassador- whom I can't believe agreed to this role- to inform him that they wanted him out. No Point in raising a stink. The man, after all, spent too much time in jail for his views as it is. The Problem lies in the fact that while he is abroad, his life-work is getting destroyed back here. The Ibn Khaldoun center is slowly falling apart.
Back in early 2006 I approached Dr. Ibrahim for advice on starting my own Think Thank, and the one thing he warned me against was having a one-man show there. It was right after Al Ghad Party started to fall apart with Ayman Nour going to Jail, and with the Power struggle that took place in Al Wafd Party because Nooman Gomaa wouldn't give up his seat as the party head. Dr. Ibrahim lamented to me that the problem in Egyptian leadership is that the person on top, once they arrive there, they never want to give up control or pave the way for someone to carry on their work, out of fear that those same people remove and replace them. And now we are seeing the same thing happen in the center of Ibn Khaldoun, Dr. Ibrahim's NGO.
Dr. Ibrahim had a manager for the Center and her name was Ayyat. Ayyat , while not overly competent, knew the NGO in and out and all the contacts, and is effectively the operational manager of the center. Right after Dr. Ibrahim fled the country, the government-sponsored
attack dogs newspapers showed bathing suits pictures of Ayyat and made some seriously messed up insinuations about her, which eventually led her to resign from Ibn Khaldoun. With Saad and Ayyat gone, there was no one to take charge (no institutional hierarchy to speak of exists over there), so now Dr. Ibrahim's brother is the one running the place, and doing so firmly into the ground. The man doesn't know the first thing about running an NGO, nor does he understand any of the projects there, so now the interns are the ones who are making all the decisions inside. Add to that the fact that aid for NGO's in Egypt is now simply eroding, because Egypt is now becoming a low-income country instead of a less-developed country, is not making things any easier. The Europeans have already cut most of their funding, and the USAID, I am informed, will be systematically reduced over the next 10 years until it becomes inconsequential to the overall picture. Democracy building in the middle east, after all, is no longer a priority or in fashion. The international left finally got his wish there. Good Job guys. How about a shot for every imperialistic agent of an NGO that closes its door in the next few years due to lack of funding? I am buying!
This is sad because in the world of civil society, the name Ibn Khaldoun carries with it a lot of weight, and soon it will be destroyed. No leadership, no organization and soon no funding, it won't be long till it closes down, unless the man comes back and puts his house in order. That, unfortunately, due to his belief that he would be imprisoned and killed while in prison, doesn't seem like it's going to happen anytime soon. Ibn Khaldoun may not be dead yet, but it might be wise to get out and start washing your funeral cloths. Shouldn't be long now.
Well, Independent ones, anyway. The daily ones didn't appear yesterday and the weekly ones will not publish throughout the week. This is the latest development in the crisis between the Press and the Government.
Egypt's newspapers conducted a silent
protest against the government by withholding their publications from
newsstands on Sunday. Both independent and opposition newspapers joined
forces in the one-day protest against the government's crackdown and
imprisonment of journalists in the country. The move comes as a leading
editor is due to return to court on charges of defamation. The charges
come after his paper, Al Dostour, reported on rumors that President
Hosni Mubarak was ill or possibly dead in August.
newspapers withdrew from the atmosphere of freedom in the victory day
for vague reasons and because of pressures from an unknown power,"
wrote the pro-government Rose El-Youssef newspaper in opposition to the
Pressue from an unknown power. Right. Yeah, don't count on Al Ahram, or Al Akhbar to join the protest either. There sued to be a time- until very recently- they would've, but not anymore!
*Those incidents took place a week ago, when I went to that protest. The fact that I didn't write about them until now is a testament to how busy I am. Apologies for that!*
"Why are you doing this?", my friend S asked me. "Why are you, of all people, going to today's protest?"
I looked at her silently for a second, as if I am not able to comprehend the question. What exactly did she mean by "you of all people"? And then I rememberd, yeah, flaming Libertarian going to a solidarity with workers' protest. Yeah, I guess that should raise some eyebrows.
I looked at her and said: "Well, because I am a capitalist, babe. Those people worked, and they deserve their getting their pay. That's all there is to it.", and she looked at me and shrugged, as if saying, "I think what you are doing is stupid!".
Yeah, You are probably right, I thought to myself. But then again, I wasn't totally honest about my answer. What I said was a truth, but not the whole truth. But I wasn't going to explain now. It was almost 9 m, and my ride was here.
It's time to embark on some civil disobedience.
We, me and M., arrive at the Parking lot right next to the AUC. That's the rendez-vous point with Gimmy , H., her boy, and whomever else was coming to this thing. M. and H. were dressed in jeans and male shirts, looking like female british factory workers. I guess if you are a capitalist chick going to a worker's protest, this is what You wear.
The news we heard so far wasn't very comforting: The Talaat Harb square is , again, a War Zone. Police Cars everywhere, plainclothed police Officers lining up the streets, and everybody is afraid to start the protest by themselves. For the life of me, I do not understand their insistence on always protesting in either Tahrir Square, Talaat Harb square or the Press Syndicate. I persoanlly don;t get it. Why not have a protest in Heliopolis? Or Dokki? Or Maadi? Why always Downtown? God knows the State security knows how to completely control the area and squash the protests with ease now. It almost feels like folly. Like we are children and we are about to play Police and Protesters. Where we playing today boys? The Talaat Harb Playground? Fantastic. Let's all go to Al Borsa Cafe after it's all over and talk about how we managed to waste the last few hours, while smoking cheap Shisha. Yeah!
I call Nora to see where she is, and she informs me that she is in the Ghad Party headquarters, an apartment in a Building in Talaat Harb sqre, and that they are having "inside the apartment Protest". The Police is standing in front of the building's door and are letting people in, but not letting them out. So, what now? We decide to go anyway, but we had to wait a couple of minutes cause a bunch of other people were coming first. In the meantime, Gimmy starts mock wailing while holding his cellphone: "Nawarah, this is not the time for this stuff". I ask him what's up, and he shows me a text message she sent to his Phone: " 'Peacefull protests are the best way to neutralize causes and trick the people' Malcom X.- I fear for every one of you, because you are doing something no one else is doing and you have no one covering your backs but GOD!"
At that moment 3 other guys passed by and shook hands with Gimmy, and stood with us, also seemingly going to the Protest. Someone pointed at one of them and told me that this was "Egyptian Leftist"- the guy who designed this greeting – and he was in the classic egyptian half sarcastic, half Jovial mode, informing us that 4 people were arrested already for this protest. I asked him which group they belonged to, and he tells me "The Ghad Party".
To which I respond, mischievously, "Good riddance", and he laughs and says : "Absolutely. If anyone is to be arrested, let them be the capitalist liberals."
At that moment I extend my hand to him and say "We haven't met before. Hi, I am the Sandmonkey!" He looks at me for a second, and then starts laughing immediacy, says"That's you? Been wanting to meet you for a while now!" and shakes my hand, without a hint of hostility.
This is gonna be fun!
The atmosphere is tense as we are heading out to Talaat Harb Square. Gimmy is very much a “usual suspect” with a very known face to the Downtown Police. We kept teasing him and asking him to walk 3 meters away from us so when the Police arrests him, they wouldn't arrest us as well, to which he runs towards us and hugs me laughingly saying, "No, not getting arrested alone". And as if the Gods wanted to test us, I get a text message from Nora that asks me to pick up Salma from the place close to Talaat Harb square. Now Salma is another very very known face, and walking with Gimmy and Salma is like wearing a sign saying" arrest me now!". Oh fuck it. What difference will it make, right? So, once we all arrive to Talaat Harb square, me and Gimmy split from the group and go get Salma, who was at a Candy store with a female friend and this tall bald dude with glasses, who looked like a walking foriegn journalist cliche. We walk with them to Talaat harb and the police, once they see them, completely ignore Salma and Gimmy and pounce on the Journalist looking guy, telling him to get out of here and pushing him away. Salma immediately starts fighting with the Policeman, trying to pry his arm off the bald dude, which in turn made more policemen gang up on them. I froze in my place, looking at the scene and not doing anything.
Someone besides me asks me "We are not gonna do something?".
Without turning around, I hear myself saying "I don't plan on getting arrested today, do you? No? Then keep still. We don't want to give them any excuse for them to use violence against us."
The Police wasn't arresting the three though. The Police simply was pushing them away from Talaat Harb. The Talaat Harb protest wasn't gonna happen. They were pushing the people away from the square. I look at Gimmy and ask him: "The Press syndicate?"
He sighs, shakes his shoulders and says: "Yeah, guess so!".
And we head out there.
The Scene at the Press Syndicate is the same as every protest: A hundred people standing on the stairs, the Police has barricades surrounding them, and are letting people in but not letting them out. The usual Kefaya players are also there: Oh Look, there is George Ishac, and here is Kammal Khalil. The Kefaya Theathre group doing an encore of their favorite show. As I walk in I realize how many of the old players are not there: Alaa and Manal are in Italy, Sharqawy, Malek, Droubi and the Brothers Gharbeia were nowhere to be found (they probably had better things to do), Hossam is in California, Elijah is somewhere between Bangkok and Hanoi, and Issandr is god knows where. Even the foreign journalists have changed, and all the old crew is gone and replaced by newbies. Egypt is no longer news worthy, and our cause is now almost forgotten.
The Protest goes on, and gets bigger and with every moment I miss my favorite Marxist Trotskite revolutionary more, so I decide to call him in Cali and keep him updated. There was news after all: A Lebanese journalist named Jano Charbel got arrested, which I found out later was Hossam's friend and neighbor. There were also rumors that some guy in Mahalla got shot and killed by the Police, but no one could confirm it. I was more distracted by the presence and arrival of 2 ambulance cars and a firefighting truck. I started harboring hopes we might get hosed. Now that should be interesting, I think to myself as I am sitting on the stairs and resting my back on the wall of the syndicate. And for a second there, you get the appeal of the place. This is our Freedom Zone. This is the place we get to scream and shout and exercise our rights of free speech. I decide to get into the spirit of things and start chanting and clapping with the rest of the protesters.
No wonder they need to confine us to this place, freedom of speech is infectious.
Gimmy came over accompanied by a dutch journalist and introduced her to me. We shake hands, and she asks if she can ask me a few questions, and I agree. This is how it went:
Z: So, you shut down the blog for a long time because the Police was after you, right?
Me: Well, that was a reason for why I shut it down, that's true.
Z: Yet you opened it again last month. What happened? They stopped harassing you?
Me: Well, things were quiet for the first few month, and I decided to move on and get involved in a couple of other projects. But around the last week of august I got a phone call from my father, asking me why a man in a suit came over and asked our doorman questions about me. Questions regarding if they see me here often, where I work now, stuff like that. The guy told the doorman that he is asking those questions because I was being "considered for a very prestigious position" and they wanted to do background checks on me. This, of course, is bullshit. They were snooping around me , again, when I didn't do anything and completely "behaved" myself for the past few months. So I figured, I am damned either way, so fuck it, I will blog again.
Z: Ok, so what brings you to this protest? This is not usually your scene.
(Why does everyone keep asking me that?)
Me: Well, part of it is because I believe the workers are right. They are owed money and they didn't get paid for over a year, so they have every right to protest the way they are. But that's not the full reason. The reality is, I haven't gone to a single protest ever since the constitutional amendments one, and you know how horrible that one was. And it has gotten worse ever since that day. Ayman Nour is still in Prison, the brothers Sadat are all out of the Parliament, Saad el Deen Ibrahim is all but virtually exiled out of the country, with the Egyptian government sending him a message using the american ambassador Riccardione to tell him that Egypt isn't safe for him anymore, and now we have 4 editors in chief of independent anti-Mubarak newspapers who are facing trial and jail sentences. And NOBODY CARES. We are pretty much heading towards a very dark period, so I came today to see if there is a glimmer of hope left, and be a part of it. Cause, what else is there to do?
Two hours had passed, it was around mindnight, and the Protest had grown in numbers, partially because more people were coming in to join, and partly because the Police wasn't letting anybody out. We started joking that we will spend the night on the stairs, and have our Sohour here. I started taking a poll, asking people if they feel like ordering Food Delivery. We figured we will call Gad for Falafel sandwiches, since it's Ramadan and all. I even went to the guards and asked them if they would allow the passage of food to us, since it seems we are gonna be here till tomorrow and we might need to have a sohour cause it's Ramadan and all. The Police soldiers laughed and said they would let the food pass, no problem. Sweet.
Just as we are actually preparing to take the order, we noticed that the Police was starting to let some people out, but the majority of which were carrying kids. I had seen some of them coming in with children and I didn't get it at first, and now I did. They bring the children with them, so that they can use them as an excuse to get out. Unfuckinbelievable. Anyway, more people were alerted that they were allowing some people to exit, so they started moving towards the exit as well, and the entire situation became intensely crowded, with the people pushing and shoving each other, and the Police letting like 3 people out every 5 minutes, enjoying how much we are pushing and shoving each other every time in adjustment.
I was leading the way, and when the door finally opened to let some people out, a woman cried that she is suffocating. So getting her out became a priority, so I also screamed that we have girls and pushed M and H to the front, so they all got out and the door closed again for another 5 minutes. Ignoring the guy who was elbowing me and the 3 trying to push me against the barricade, I could see M and H talking to the police Officer and pointing at us. Then the door opened again, and they pointed at me and told me to get out. So I pushed my away out, knowing that Gimmy is right behind me, to find them closing the opening in his face. The Police Officer pointed at him and said: "Anybody but him. He kicked me in an earlier protest. Don't let him out".
I went and spoke to the ranking Police Officer ( a different one), imploring him to open the gate to let the rest of our group out. He told me that I can point at them and let only 3 out. I agreed. As I was about to chose the rest of my group, including Gimmy, the police Officer said "On one condition. Not that one" pointing at him. Looking at him, I muttered "I am sorry", and started pointing my friends out. Suddenly everybody knew my name and started shouting at me to choose them to get out as well, so I started pulling everybody that I could out, bringing out 8 people instead of 3 until the Police removed me and shut the gate again. The Officer looked at me and said : "I said only 3", to which I responded "yeah, but they are all my friends and its Ramadan. Happy Ramadan to you", so he shooed me away, and told me to start moving or else we will all get arrested for real. So we started walking towards the side street we came from, grouping together the original group with the extras I pulled out. The three of them knew Gimmy. We started debating what we should do, so I decided to call him and found him answering: "Yes, they let me out. I am coming right now!". So we told him where we were, and when I started seeing his sillouhette coming towards us I started running towards him, except that he wasn't answering my calls. Instead he was starting to move faster, almost running, and pointed towards me with his hand to stay away.
And then he suddenly broke into sprint and went into a side street…
…and then I noticed 4 other big men that were behind him, who suddenly started sprinting and ran behind Gimmy as well.
Gimmy was being chased!
I ran towards the group, telling them to start moving. They asked me "What's wrong? Where did Gimmy Go?"
"He ran this way. He is being chased by 4 plainclothed police officers", I respond.
"But why? They let him out!" M. said.
"So that they can beat him up later away from the media." One of the three joining us said. He then looked at his two buddies and said, "Let's go after them, to make sure he is ok!" and they started running towards that side street, and then stopped suddenly, when they saw a gorup of girls they knew, and started chatting with them. Probably telling them heroic stories about the protest they just got out of. The rescue Gimmy Calvary got shut down by a 3 protester groupies. The Kid was on his own.
"Let's run and get the car", I said to M. as I started pulling her away with me.
"What the fuck are they doing? Is this the time to pick up chicks? Weren't they gonna.."
"Well, they saw a chance to score Punanni and they took it over helping their friend M. Ok? We are gonna have to get him. So LET'S RUN."
She looked at me for one second and then she started sprinting, and I am with her and the rest of the group behind us. I call Gimmy, and ask him for his location. We agree to rendez-vous at Talaat Harb square again, because its crowded and they wouldn't be able to secretly beat him up there. Not to mention, numbers in strength. In 3 minutes we bumped into him and I look for the 4 guys and I don't see them. He lost them. Relief washes over me, but we are not out of the woods yet, so we immediately head to the cars to go home. On the way there, Gimmy gets a phone call from the 3 guys who were supposed to come to his rescue, asking him how he is doing and if he was ok. They then asked him if he wanted to join them at the Borsa Cafe, cause everybody who was in the protest is there.
God I hate Downtown activists!
Two days later, the Mahalla strike was over. The workers were victorious. A settlement with the state-owned company was reached, and they were going to get paid their rightfully acquired salaries and profit shares. The moment the news broke out that the Mahalla workers got their rights, 2 other workers Protests broke out in Domyat and Tanta. The workers saw that this government , for the first time ever, responds to pressure, and they are taking full advantage of the opportunity. Good for them.
Yeah, we are heading towards some seriously dark days, but glimmers of hope still exist!
Tonight @9 PM, Talaat Harb Square, to protest the jailing of the 4 Opposition Newspapers editors in Chief and in solidarity with the Mahalla workers protest. I know it's a thursday night in Ramadan and all, but, like, you can always smoke shisha later. Be there!
Some seriously sad news coming from the one country in the region that seemed adamant to leave Freedom of Speech alone. Too bad!
For those who are not familiar with this case, please go here , here , here , here and here for background information. For those who are, this is what happend today:
Today was the first session of the case at the new court, the sixth district court, to cover the case of Judge Mourad against the 21 websites. The Judge was supported by the Hesbah lawyers of the AbdelKarim case (they are trying to add his blog to the list of banned websites), and our side was supported, by, like many many many people, including the government. Imagine that. The Ministery of telecomunication sent a lawyer that was, for the lack of a better word, excellent. But more on that Later.
Judge Mourad presented his case, which was a whole lot of Bullshit. His first line of argument was that he was being attacked and slanderd by those evil websites, which is something that could happen to any Judge (Hint hint, presiding Judges, hint hint), and that he faces a very organized campaign of attack and slander against him since day one. His case then became that those websites and organizations insult the Quran, God, The President and the country, and some of them are funded by "foreign sources" that give them "bags of dollars" to help them continue to defame the country. He asked the court to demand from the NGO's a detailed account of where their funding comes from and then presented posts and pirnted webpages to support his claims. He also demanded that the court makes the sessions private and not allow publishing anything in the newspapers on the case.
Then our side striked back.
Gamal Eid from HR Info presented the plagarsim document, and made a very elequont case that this is very much a private vendetta thing and an attempt by the Judge to hide his plagarism, and has nothing to do with defending Egypt. He also wanted the Judges to ignore the gag order and continue nmaking this case as public as possible, since the man just publcially defamed them in court.
The Government Lawyer made a very detailed argument that a) It's practically impossible to block a website, since there are proxies that can access it, and b) That it makes no sense to block every website someone defames somebody on, and made the analogy that if a wrietr in a newspaper insults someone in his writing, the newspaper doesn't get shut down and c) that the Judge has no business telling the government which websites to block and which not to, and that if thatd oor gets opend, everyday someone will demand the pulling of a website, and they do not have the time, energy or respources to investigate every single one and block it , given that they know how futile it is.
The Judge then announced that he will make his decisions on the demands known at the end of the session, then came out with a decision to move the next sesion to the 5th of may and to ignore the Judge's demand for a gag order. The thing that makes you very optimistic is that the Judges seemed to really know the case and what's at stake and weren't exactly friendly to the Judge. So there is hope and a very good chance that this case could be very well thrown out.
After the session was over, a small but heated argument started between The Hesbah Lawyer and Alaa and Gamal Eid, given that the Lawyer was a witness at a police report accusing Manal and Alaa of insulting Judge Mourad the last hearing. This is bullshit, because, well, Manal wasn't even there. She had left at 10 am and the scuffle that took place last hearing where the alledged insulting happend, occured around 1:30 pm. The Hesbah Islamic lawyer, with his beard and all of his Koran spouting skills, is a liar and Alaa told him that to his face. Not that it matters of course. The man has no conscience!
It feels weird though to be on the same side of the government. Not sure that I am going to get used to that feeling.
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