International International Issues International Politics

“Innaharda, ehna kullina Misryeen.” Today, we are all Egyptians.

Nicholas Kristof, who continues to go to Tahrir Square, had another good column about the astonishing bravery he saw around him.

PS: Keep an eye on the name Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League, who showed up on the square today and is one of those whose name is being tossed around as a possible presient.

PPS: The Committee to Protect Journalists is documenting more attacks and threats made against journalists, much of it reportedly coordinated by the Egyptian government in the form of the Interior Ministry.

An Egyptian journalist, shot earlier in the week, has died.


  • I find it hard to believe that the attacks on journalists have really been by the government and/or government militias. Certainly that is in stark contrast to their role in the past – when I was in Egypt some 5-6 years ago, traveling around the country from Cairo to Alexandria, the Nile Cruise to Luxor/ Aswan, etc. – but also arranging with my then travel partner a private trip down to Dendara (a tiny part of the temple is the focal point of NYC’s Met)/ Asyut with its amazingly preserved and rarely seen, still brightly lit temple carvings – the military provided a caravan escort for us, and boy, did we soon realize it was necessary. (By “us” I include a half-dozen Europeans also staying at our hotel, a smugly condescending anti-American bunch, as it turned out, even though I personally arranged the tour with the hotel manager and his contacts with the government – but never mind about them for now. Except that they were oblivious to the real dangers posed by some of the Egyptians in the local towns in the immediate area, an area known to harbor the “extremists” who were a world away geographically and mentally from the Cairo “elite” I mostly met through personal contacts and associations. HOWEVER even they universally reminded us that Israeli peace was a cold one, that Begin and Shamir had started out no less terrorists than Arafat, and so on.)

    In one cafe the tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife, to use an unoriginal metaphor, and the Europeans were angry we were quickly hustled out. I can imagine some of these people threatening the news crew with heheading, and meaning it!

    SO if there is any truth to the Egyptian military being behind any of these inexcusable retaliations, it would have to be because, for years, they were literally the only thing standing between tourists/ scholars and very real dangerous elements, and anti-Israeli passions and suspicions that everyone was an Israeli spy – and now they felt tossed aside literally overnight, in some cases, by an international public which does not understand that “democracy” in Egypt is a far cry from the Western notions.
    (NOT that I’m defending the also real outrages of the Mubarek regime, the kinds of extreme punishments which make extremists even angrier and more determined to fight back – specially given the mindset of the Middle East.)

    Apologies if this is all a bit muddled, I’d have to clean it up to extract the clearer point in there – but I had to say something on behalf of the sincere, dedicated commitment to our safety we were shown by the Mubarek government and military, and at great cost, I might add.

  • sbl, to my knowledge, no one is suggesting it was the Egyptian military. They have worked to remain neutral.

    But they are suggesting that the government was demonstrably behind some of the incidents, which includes the interior ministry and the Mukhabarat, the secret police.

    In other cases, it was Mubarek supporters who appeared to have been whipped into a frenzy of fury by reports on Nile Television. The reports, coming primarily from the New Vice President and from the Interior Ministry, stated that the demonstrations were a not a popular uprising at all, but a product of outside agitators, journalists and those in league with or in the pay of Israel (a curious logical whiplash, given that Israel is very not thrilled by the demonstrations).

    Unless they were excellent actors, the men who attacked the various journalists, smashed equipment, made threats, and beat people up, made clear verbally what their agenda was.

    The NY Times people who were arrested had a rather specific report about their time in detention.

    The notion that the authorities and/or their bands of supporters are behind the attacks on journalists are pretty well documented. I mean, if you’re arrested and taken to the Interior Ministry and hear others screaming in pain in the room next door to you, you can be pretty sure that the Interior Ministry and/or the Mukhabarat is responsible.

    About Egypt, I’ve spent some time there as a journalist, way back when, and loved Cairo in particular, and the Egyptian people in general who were open-hearted and very welcoming (save one pickpocket, but that’s another story altogether). My experiences ranged from an interview in the Presidential Palace, to time spent just walking the streets, talking to ordinary people at the souks, et al, and much in between, including meetings with students and artists. My only regret is that I haven’t spent more time there recently.

  • Sorry but I don’t think you can separate the “military” from the government in Egypt. The military answers(ed) to the government. It was government officials who arranged our convoy, and the exceptional oversight throughout the journey (including even sharp-shooters atop the Asyut temple and disguised as camel drivers, by the way, and a hastily added “waiter” since the Europeans insisting on lingering for lunch).

    Are you saying the military does NOT answer to the head of state, that it’s a law unto itself? THAT in itself is a disturbing notion as well – imagine if that were true in the U. S.! If the military did NOT answer to the President, however much his views may differ from those of top brass. (Obama being perhaps a prime case in point.)

    The distinction between the “Secret Police” answerable to the government (like the KGB or KDV etc. of Eastern Europe/ Cold War era) and the “military” which is separate (answerable to WHOM then? Even in Cold War Eastern Europe they definitely answered to the government – and were part of the same bureaucracy (politically and financially, as they are in Egypt) – the clear distinction you’re trying to draw, is not at all clear. Nor is it to the journalists covering the “Egyptian intifada” or whatever one wants to call it, and frankly, they do muddle the situation more than they elucidate it. Lots of “facts” and “information” and very little insight. (Which was the case with the war in Kosovo-Servia, by the way, in particular – the more “journalists” insisted on being in situ, maybe to make their personal marks and further their careers as much as anything else – why else would Anderson Cooper INSIST on staying, running his “furtive” and oh-so-important dimly lit stories from a hotel balcony miles from the action, insist on staying? The more newsprint and stories were filed, without in-depth historical and cultural background, the LESS Americans understood the situation. Like what’s happening in Egypt.)

    AGAIN, none of this justifies any persecution/ detention/ harming of journalists, tourists, dissidents or ANYONE – a prime function of any government should be to guarantee public safety.

    If there IS a key role for journalists at this point, it’s not so much to “explain” what’s going on since they don’t do a good job of it, but to perhaps protect with their presence the dissidents who fear punishment if observers leave and there’s no one left to see and document what happens to them. It’s essential that the protesters at the Square and elsewhere, feel free to leave and go home, without worrying that the “secret police” or whoever, will show up at their homes and haul them off as soon as they leave.

    BTW I do agree that the vast, vast majority of Egyptians and Arab people’s in general, are unbelievably kind and warm to Americans and all visitors, partly because of their tribal traditions of living in inhospitable desert lands. When you show up there, you are welcomed and taken care of until the minute you leave their community. However there are those who would happily cut off our heads, and it was the “government” and its command over the military, which kept them at bay and preserved at least the semblance of Cold Peace with Israel, which was universally unpopular. (And let’s not forget that it wasn’t that long ago that tourists at Luxor were ambushed and massacred, some 80 or so, wasn’t it?)

  • P.S. I’m certainly not disputing that soldiers (as individuals? Or what units?) are generally not firing on the civilians but staying neutral to just keep order. Though in some cases it’s been reported, are going through the crowds spraying some smoky substance allowing Mubarek supporters to escape from the mobs, for example. However this raises the interesting question of just who the “military” brass does support now. In every “revolution” or whatever one calls it, whether in E. Europe, from Hungary to Poland to the Czech Republic, or even in some cases China’s Tiananmen, the soldiers who are recruits not professionals do often stand with their compatriots instead of the command structure (even enabling the revolution to succeed as in the latter 2 cases above, Poland and the Czech “soft revolution,” or almost so til sadly crushed eventually – as in Hungary ’56, where the Russian soldiers did retreat, unwilling to mow down civilians in the streets of Budapest, until the world’s attention was distracted by the Suez crisis in Egypt and the Russian tanks moved back in), this doesn’t change the basic command structure.

    Now when the “government” i.e. Mubarek’s loss of power is imminent, this whole relationship between military command (and soldiers who may choose to support civilians) is in flux. This discussion has brought that to the fore for me.

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