The Week in Egypt [August 18, 2014]

Catch up on the latest out of Egypt every week, with analysis, news updates, photos, videos, and more.

Quote of the Week

“These criminals defend themselves today, as if they were the keepers of the Egyptian people… but they are the reason behind the state of the country.”
Younes Makhyoun, President of the Nour Party, on the trial of former autocratic President Hosni Mubarak, his two sons, his interior minister and six of his aides.

Egypt in the News







Sis’s visit to Russia is message to the West | Mustafa Bassiouni, Al Monitor

The visit by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to Moscow yesterday [August 12] seemed more practical than ideological. Egypt today is not the Nasserite Egypt of the 1950s. And Russia is not the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, the visit happened in an atmosphere evocative of the 1960s. A swarm of Russian fighter jets escorted the Egyptian presidential plane, while a military ceremony was set up on a ship from the Black Sea Fleet, reflecting Russia’s desire to build new alliances to face the repercussions of the Ukrainian crisis.

Sisi’s visit to Moscow has taken a special dimension for Russia, and this dimension is no less important for Egypt. After the faltering of relations between Egypt and both the United States and the European Union, following the overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, Cairo is greatly in need of balance in its foreign relations and for some breathing room in the Levant to deal with the Western pressure on Egypt.

At the political level, the visit comes at a crucial time. Russia is now an international player, primarily in the Syrian crisis, which has turned into a cross-border crisis that is knocking on the doors of the Gulf states and Egypt with the emergence of the danger of the Islamic State and the other jihadist danger coming from Libya.

The margin of maneuver in Egypt’s foreign relations is no longer tight. There are ways for Egypt to face outside pressure. Russia has warmly welcomed the Egyptian initiative to assert that Western pressure regarding the Ukrainian crisis will not isolate the Russian bear. Was Sisi’s visit just intended to tell his original allies to stop their pressure? Or is there a genuine shift in Egyptian diplomacy?

Perhaps the answer to that question depends on how the various regional and international parties behave in the next phase.

Voices in and on Raba’a, one year ago in Cairo | H.A. Hellyer, Al Arabiya

Cairo had been on edge. I think the whole country was. It seems almost moot now to repeat, ad nauseum, that the country was deeply polarized, between a large majority and a substantial minority. Far too often, political actors will use claims to popularity to justify actions and acts that can never be justified – but they go ahead and justify them anyway. Societies are fortunate when those acts only affect them or their generation – but in Egyptian society, that’s rarely the case.

…the truth is that a multitude of opinion polls and surveys from the likes of Gallup and others made it clear: the military and its establishment remained the most popular institution in the country by far. That was a lesson that the non-Brotherhood revolutionary camp took a long time to recognize and realize – believing, almost facetiously, that ‘the masses’ were always with the revolution. If only. When one couples that support for the military establishment on the one hand, and the growing unpopularity of the Brotherhood and of political parties in general on the other, one thing seemed clear. Not only would the sit-in eventually end – but the authorities would be able to count on a critical mass of the population to support it.

Societies are fortunate when those acts only affect them or their generation. But there are some acts that remain far beyond. Some traumas take a long time to heal – and those traumas need careful, delicate processes. Otherwise, the scabs keep coming off. Unfortunately, most in Egypt, apart from the rare few, aren’t really interested in healing – that would include accountability. And the major players aren’t interested in accountability and reform on a wide scale – not even those whose camp has suffered as a result, let alone those who have actually perpetrated the violations themselves. They’re interested in their own power – and the call for accountability is a threat to everyone’s power, if it is comprehensive, and covers not just this incident or that incident. Because in Egypt’s story, there are so very few that would escape that call – for Egypt has known a lot of traumas in the past few years. And, unfortunately, not nearly enough healing. Without that healing, we can be assured – those traumas will continue to affect many more to come.

Egypt’s fondness for foreigners | Alaa al-Aswany, The New York Times
…Egyptian capacity for tolerance and assimilation is now in doubt. Last year, the bank HSBC named Egypt the least foreigner-friendly of 37 countries surveyed, and the Deutsche Welle broadcast service reported on “the wave of xenophobia” against foreigners in Egypt. Protests, whether organized by Islamists or their opponents, it was said, often end with demonstrators ripping up photographs of President Obama and chanting anti-American slogans.

Have Egyptians succumbed to xenophobia? To answer that, let’s clear up one or two misunderstandings. True, most Egyptians don’t trust the United States because it has turned a blind eye to human rights abuses when doing so has suited Washington, and it has consistently backed dictatorial regimes. Opposition to American policies, though, does not translate into hatred for Americans. Egyptians may protest against Mr. Obama, but individual Americans are not victimized because of his policies.

[Another] misconception confuses government policy with the attitudes of ordinary people toward foreigners. When Egypt has lapsed into xenophobia, it has always been because of the paranoia and aggression of dictators, not of the people. Many Egyptians feel that Western governments misunderstood their support for the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood government of President Mohamed Morsi, but they do not bear a grudge and they certainly have no hostility toward foreigners.

On Twitter: Responses to the Human Rights Watch report on Raba’a

On Monday, August 11, Egypt barred Human Rights Watch (HRW) staff from entering the country. HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth and Middle East and North Africa Director Sarah Leah Whitson had flown to Cairo to launch a report on the mass killings of protesters one year ago during the dispersal of the Raba’a al-Adeweya sit-in. HRW accused the Egyptian government of attempting to silence all criticism. On twitter, many reacted to the Egyptian government’s decision and reflected upon the Raba’a dispersal.

Video of the Week
Egypt’s military spokesman Mohamed Samir presented a video displaying the efforts of the armed forces to crack down on terrorism in the Sinai. The armed forces’ efforts are described as a continuation of the state’s efforts to secure its borders and and address attempts to undermine national security. The video demonstrates the army’s seizure of weapons in al-Arish as well as the destruction of tunnels in Rafah and the arrest of Palestinians attempting to illegally enter into Egypt.


Cartoon of the Week

6966 caricature
“Ya Baba, Adly is saying that the January 25 revolution wasn’t a revolution?”
“Yeah, the people were a little bored so they went down to die in the street!”

This Week’s Interviews

The cost of lifting fuel subsidies | Mada Masr
Editor-in-Chief of Mada Masr, Lina Attalah, interviewed Amr Adly, a scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center specializing in political economy, about Egypt’s recent increase in fuel prices
and the government’s attempts to alleviate the country’s current economic crisis. Adly discussed how the fuel subsidy system in Egypt operated and its main beneficiaries. He emphasized that while the subsidy system largely benefitted the middle, upper-middle, and upper classes in Egypt, increased fuel prices will more negatively impact Egypt’s poor. He also discussed the impact that Egypt’s deficit is having on interest rates and investments, and the difficulty in promoting growth while also implementing austerity measures.

Egypt has considerable problems in its penal institutions: Nasser Amin | DNE
Daily News Egypt interviewed Nasser Amin, a member of Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) and the general director of the Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and Legal Profession to discuss the human rights situation in Egypt. In light of the anniversary of the Raba’a dispersal and the committee’s release in March of a report on the dispersal, Amin discussed the NCHR’s fact finding committee that was charged with investigating the dispersal and whether Egypt’s security forces acted within the boundaries of international human rights. Amin explained the committee’s approach to investigating the dispersal and discussed the committee’s findings. He also commented on several humans rights issues in Egypt, including reports of torture in prisons, and argued that Egypt’s penal institutions are in urgent need of reforms.

NCHR president: systematic torture has ended, the police state will not return | Shorouk (Arabic)
Shorouk interviewed Mohamed Fayek, the president of Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) to discuss the human rights situation in Egypt over the past year. Fayek discussed Egypt’s protest law, which he argued should be amended, as well as reports of torture in prisons and the Muslim Brotherhood’s participation in the political sphere. He also commented on the June 30 fact finding committee, headed by Fouad Riad, which is investigating the Raba’a dispersal. Finally, he discussed the role of transitional justice in Egypt after the January 25, 2011 revolution in addition to Egypt’s relationship with neighboring African countries.

Image: Photo: Protesters, supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, shout slogans in the Matariya area in Cairo, August 14, 2014. Security was tightened on Thursday (Reuters)