Tuesday, March 29, 2011

UNSCR 1973 and Libya

UNSC Resolution 1973 authorizing member states "to take all necessary measures [...] to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya" has been in effect for eleven days now. US and NATO have struck many targets, including much of Gaddafi's air defense systems and armor on the ground where the opportunity offered itself with reduced risk of collateral damage.

Since this has begun, commentators and media have been going wild with opinion pieces and theories. Questions abound about whether this is a revolution or a civil war, whether to refer to the opposition as "rebels", or what this same opposition might do if Gaddafi were removed. There is also no shortage of questions about whether Western powers have some kind agenda and what that might be. The one question most of those people - or at least those against intervention - are carefully avoiding is what might have become of Benghazi and its population, not to mention opposition elsewhere in the country, had no one intervened.

Indeed, strikes began just hours away from the moment Gaddafi's regime intended to steamroll over Benghazi. This is not a matter of speculation. This is a fact supported by developments on the ground previous to the intervention and by Gaddafi's declaration of his intentions to the world. Everything points to the high probability that we would have witnessed another Srebrenica massacre, or that proportions might even have reached those of Hama in 1982.

Apparently, that's not a problem for the naysayers though. They offer many great reasons to support their positions. First among those is that the West has some kind of secret agenda behind all this. They're not doing it to be nice, we're told. They want oil, or some kind of geostrategic advantage. They are evil imperialists!  Well I stand appropriately shocked at this amazing revelation. Someone shoulda sent it to WikiLeaks.  How fortunate that we have these white knights to preserve our virgin world from political agendas. Perhaps if we'd let Gaddafi's armor roll on and wipe Benghazi off the map our purity might have been preserved from political agendas. Oh well, it's too late now I guess!

Rest assured, these heroes of international justice who would have had us look the other way while unspeakable atrocities occurred do not have any agendas of their own. They're just nice people like that, and they are many. Frankly, I don't recall hearing such vocal protest when it came to chasing fake WMDs or any number of other wars which looked far more imperialist to me. When it came to saving civilians from massacre though, everyone's scruples suddenly made an appearance!

So let me get this straight... when there are fake WMDs to search for and there is no UN mandate, it's ok to go, but when large amounts of civilians are in danger we should be very careful about intervening. Is that correct?

The second great reason for not intervening I have been hearing a lot is that no fly zones have been tried before and they took a long time to achieve any results. Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan are all among the examples. These people would have us believe that situations are the same in each conflict, and that they could not possibly produce different results elsewhere. Among the proponents of such simplistic reasoning are people I normally admire. Dear Michael: it helps when the population is on your side.

Thirdly, we are told that a better course of action would have been to negotiate. I'm no negotiation expert but I'm not usually inclined to negotiate with someone while they're shooting at me. Not that this third point should be taken seriously at all. No one in their right minds or with any knowledge of Gaddafi seriously believes a negotiated settlement was possible before military intervention. If anything, military intervention is going to enable negotiations. Why would he have negotiated before? Give me one good reason, when in his mindset, he had a more 'suitable' alternative the whole time.

Some are also arguing that foreign intervention somehow killed the Arab Spring. While I see what they mean, I can't help wondering what message would have been sent to Arab peoples had we just watched Gaddafi forcefully crush his people's demands for freedom and let him carry on like nothing happened. This just highlights the fact that all these people objecting have proposed no serious alternative to intervention. They don't even appear particularly concerned with what might occur if their advice were to be followed while military force was advancing on Benghazi.

The bottom line is that a massacre was about to take place before our eyes, and the world chose not to let it happen. If you're disappointed, go get your fix by plucking the wings off a living fly or something. The rest of us don't like massacres.

And seriously, the notion that preventing a wide-scale massacre was wrong because nations intervening have an agenda is like saying you don't want some guy to pull someone out of a truck's way because he might steal their handbag. Screw the handbag. Get your priorities straight.

The other very important aspect of this is that the Libyans asked for the help they are receiving. It is their right, it is their nation. You are not in any position to judge in their place.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Why Women's Rights in Egypt Are Important, and NOT Just for Women

Egyptians are recovering their freedom after long periods of living without it. Immense joy resulting from this is accompanied by no less immense challenges. Among these challenges are understanding what freedoms we are reclaiming and knowing what freedoms we were deprived of for so many years. The answers to these questions may sound obvious, and some of them are. Some of them however, are anything but obvious.

Break an old elephant's chain and he will remain in his place.

Shaking old habits can be a tall order. Egyptians have lived under a certain paradigm for many years. This paradigm is that of an authoritative, patriarchal leader. A leader who could do no wrong, who was not to be questioned, under penalty of punishment. A leader whose abuses always had some kind of a good justification.

Unbeknownst to themselves, many Egyptian men have learned to reproduce this paradigm at their level. This is not to say they were as abusive as the regime, or that they bore their family or surroundings any ill intentions. They just did what humans do best: they adapted to their environment. Most did so with the best intentions, and worked hard to feed their families and helped themselves and those around them to survive.

As Egyptian men, they were figures of authority in their environments, bowing only to other male figures of authority. They made the rules, and women did not. The law came from men. Big decisions came from men. Selective use of aspects of culture and religion served as powerful safeguards against any challenge to this state of affairs. A man was entitled, even duty-bound to be the law or to represent it. This role involved living with certain pressures, but these brought with them a certain sense of entitlement. One that may not be easy to let go of. One that may stand in the way of change.

So in a way, men have become enslaved to their own "privileges". It is clear then, that embracing significant change may involve far more than overthrowing a dictator. It may involve deep soul-searching and facing questions we have not been taught to face. As they became part of the system, as they inadvertently became part of the paradigm's enforcement arm, there were freedoms men forgot they didn't have.

Women, on the other hand, suffer no such impediment to raising the appropriate questions that significant change requires (they may face others, however.) They have been used to living by laws they played no role in formulating. To watching testosterone-based nonsense bring ridiculous situations about in their every day lives (it hurts to write this!) To suffering acts of disrespect on a daily basis, be it gratuitously in the street, or only moderately less gratuitously when prodded to get back in line after demonstrating independent thought. They have been aware all along of the freedoms they didn't have, and by extension, the freedoms we were all deprived of.

Today, women demanding their rights unavoidably raise questions that concern not only their freedoms, but all of our freedoms. They do so naturally, unhindered by some of the chains men carry in their minds. To suppress their voice is to give up some of our own freedoms. What they have to contribute will benefit all Egyptians, men and women alike.

I have often heard in recent days that women are a part of this revolution alongside the men. I would say that they not only stand side by side with the men, but in certain ways, they will even lead.

Egypt's First Post-Dictatorship Vote

Today, Egyptians all over the country are voting for or against constitutional amendments introduced after the fall of the dictatorship. This is an immensely important day in a number of ways.

This is the first time in many years where citizens feel their vote will actually count. Many have waited for this day for long years. Others had resigned themselves. Today, all are able to enjoy the benefits brought to us through the sacrifices of those who died for democracy.

This is also an important test of the military transitional leadership's sincerity in moving towards democracy. There are already some reports of irregular events surfacing, like unstamped ballots or voting booths with no curtains. This might simply be disorganization. We will have to wait to see. If this turns out to be a rigged vote like all the ones under the dictatorship, this nation will be in big trouble, and that includes the army. We want democracy or nothing. If it is not going to be allowed, we might as well just burn the whole fucking country down.

It is also a test of Egyptian unity. Many are only discovering what it feels like to make a decision as a nation with all its different factions, classes, religions, and beliefs. This is very different from previous situations where a single voice was artificially maintained for the nation, with only very little room left for dissenting voices for the purpose of keeping some pathetic pretense of credibility. Egyptians are not necessarily used to navigating a very varied political landscape. This has caused some bad feelings among people but overall things appear to be proceeding in an orderly fashion.

The subject of the vote itself also constitutes an important test of our commitment to democracy. We are to vote on some amendments brought to the constitution after the fall of the dictatorship. This does not fully meet the revolution's demands. Many are inclined to accept what we are given so that we can get started on the path to change, however small. Others feel that to settle for less than we deserve is a dangerous move. It is very difficult to estimate the outcome. The Brotherhood and elements of the fallen regime are in favor of accepting these limited amendments and doing more later. The revolutionaries and the youth in general appear to want to reject this, and to start on a blank slate with a new constitution.

I deeply regret the fact that those of us abroad cannot vote, but everything will come in due time. Barring any abuse by authorities (we have yet to see), today will go down as a great day in Egyptian history. If everything goes well, today will be our first truly post-colonial day.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Roadmap for Egypt: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The Problem

In recent times, Egypt has experienced both massive change and massive resistance to change. Those wanting change (a group to which I belong) face serious challenges. Mubarak may have been overthrown, but there is a significant number of problems to overthrow, one by one. Unfortunately, it is now clear there is no unraveling effect, where overthrowing the dictator automatically leads to the resolution of all other problems. Remaining issues must each be dealt with on its own.

This is where it gets confusing. The host of problems, including (without limitation) freeing ourselves from secretive governmental organizations, status quo agendas of big players who are obviously still in place, inter-religious issues, social issues, diplomacy issues with other nations who would prefer we weren't free if it is going to disturb their daily routine, and other issues can be very complex to evaluate and deal with.

There are many traps along the way. Anger of democracy activists at the inertia of elders who fear change is one of them. I have already seen (and blogged about) the dialog becoming more venomous. Fragmentation of forces for democracy due to trying to fight on too many fronts at once is also a danger. We have already started paying the price of this fragmentation as authorities return to old ways of arbitrary arrests and beatings, emboldened by the feeling that backing for the revolutionary movement is no longer as broad as it was before Mubarak was toppled.

Perhaps the biggest danger of all is not understanding what exactly what we are fighting for and trying to feel our way in the dark. Signs of this are already visible, with people trying to bring issues to the front which may offend sensibilities of large parts of the Egyptian population. This is very dangerous. Overthrowing Mubarak was great but frankly, if anyone thinks they're going to "overthrow" the population they'd better enlist foreign help, because the population is unlikely to willingly overthrow itself. That is not to say the population cannot be persuaded, but persuasion and coercion are not the same.

All the above problems call for some sort of solid basis to hang on to. Something stable, which can act as a lighthouse when the sea gets stormy, visibility is low, and confusion looms. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for which Egypt voted, provides just such a basis.

Please take a moment to review the declaration:

Universal Declaration of Human Rights


Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,

Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,

Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in cooperation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,

Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,

Now, therefore,

The General Assembly,

Proclaims this Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.

Article 1

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 6

Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Article 7

All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Article 8

Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

Article 9

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 10

Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

Article 11

  1. Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.
  2. No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.

Article 12

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Article 13

  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State.
  2. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 14

  1. Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
  2. This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 15

  1. Everyone has the right to a nationality.
  2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

Article 16

  1. Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
  2. Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
  3. The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Article 17

  1. Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.
  2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

Article 18

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 20

  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
  2. No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

Article 21

  1. Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
  2. Everyone has the right to equal access to public service in his country.
  3. The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

Article 22

Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

Article 23

  1. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
  2. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
  3. Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
  4. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Article 24

Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 25

  1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
  2. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Article 26

  1. Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
  2. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
  3. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Article 27

  1. Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
  2. Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

Article 28

Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.

Article 29

  1. Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.
  2. In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.
  3. These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 30

Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.


As you can see, many of the articles address issues of much importance to Egypt. Article 2 clearly addresses gender and religious issues. Articles 5 through 10, and 12 (and others) almost seem to have been specifically written for our state security organs. Article 25 and others address minimum standards of living. Article 26 addresses education.

I won't go into in depth analysis of how each article applies to Egyptian society, partly because that would require writing a book with help from many people, but also because it is important that the Egyptian be the ones to decide how the declaration applies to them.

for this to happen though, the people must first be informed of their rights. These are rights that have been granted to all people and Egypt voted in favor of this. Every single Egyptian should be aware of this declaration and the rights provided for therein.

What Needs to be Done

If you believe in the above, I invite you to help raise awareness among your fellow Egyptians. An official version in Arabic can be found here (pdf). The declaration is not very long. Print it and distribute it. Make sure everyone is aware and can decide for themselves. Some people may disagree with some parts for religious or other reasons. This is their right, insofar as they apply it to themselves. What is not their right is to deprive you of any of your rights.

This declaration or large parts of it, once there is broad awareness, can provide us with a clear roadmap to a better Egypt, where all are free regardless of age, religion, gender, wealth, or social class. If we ever feel confused about which fights are worth fighting for, we can read it again. It can help us evaluate the government's performance in providing for our rights, or evaluate how much we like a candidate for political office. Let it be our guide to avoid getting lost.

Important Resources

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Excellent BBC Video of the Revolution

Killer funny


For weeks now I have been a total news junkie. I started paying close attention when Tunisia got started, then got into it hardcore when Egypt started moving too. At first it was all excitement. It got so intense I couldn't help booking a flight and heading for Cairo to spend a couple of weeks there. Two weeks of total excitement, joy, hope for the future, just all around intense feelings.

While I was there Libya got started, and Bahrain, and the others, which I watch a little less closely due to the sheer load of information. Then I got back to Switzerland and kept watching.

The excitement is mostly gone now. I'm not sure what it has been replaced by. Every day, I wake up and go check, I go through so many videos and pictures of people dying, or getting hurt, while others line up behind them, willing to face the same fate to fight for freedom. Now there is Japan too. I have always loved Japanese culture. Those people may not be fighting for their freedom, but it is no less heartbreaking to watch. I also still worry about Egypt a lot as well. Will we sink back into the abyss whence we have risen?

I didn't know in the beginning. I didn't know how I would feel after seeing so much death, and sadness. Now when I see all those people getting hurt I can... feel it, sort of. It's a little odd. I would have expected to become desensitized over time, but it hurts more now than it did in the beginning. I hang out on Twitter a lot, where there are many cool peeps watching the same things, gathering the same info. We joke around, keep things cheerful, but we all know we are witnessing really sick shit and that it really is no joke.

It feels bad, and I don't know what it is, or how I will feel tomorrow, or if any of this can be damaging from a psychological perspective. What I do know for sure is I won't stop watching. I want to bear witness, I want to know, I don't want to shut my eyes or look away. If there is pain, then I want that too. I want to carry it with me forever. I want it to remind me of the principles people died for, the principles we now live for. I don't ever want to forget.

Above all I want to keep hoping we will all see a better tomorrow for Egypt, for all our brothers and sisters in Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Palestine and whoever else believes in their freedom. I want to hope for Japanese people too, that they will overcome nature's harsh test and rise again stronger than before. For American workers too, and even for Israelis for whom I have no hate even if I totally disagree with Zionist ideology.

I want to keep hoping for all humanity.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Reply to Sandmonkey's "The Free Republic of Egypt"

I just read a post by blogger Sandmonkey called "The Free Republic of Egypt". It is written in the form of an open letter to the Egyptian population. As you might expect from him, it is thoughtful, well worded, and makes some great points. The letter's apparent purpose is a noble one, to explain to the general population why revolutionaries do what they do.

And now for the bad news.

Lemme tell ya, the Egyptian revolution is in dire need of some PR knowhow. While Sandmonkey's intended purpose is clearly noble, the actual letter is an exercise in sarcasm and mockery, save for some lip service paid to a more unifying stance in the end. This comes as no surprise, as the revolution movement (if it can still be called that after endless fracturing)  has relentlessly worked on alienating more and more segments of the population ever since the historical day of Mubarak's departure.

At one point he says:

"You can have a country where people believe that being civilized is to go for one day and clean Tahrir Square up, while we will believe that true civilization is ensuring that our government cleans our street up and as for us, well, we just won’t litter."

That's right, he just implied the majority of the population doesn't understand how to be "truly" civilized. He might as well just call them animals while he's at it. Feel free to go read the entire letter for many more pleasant remarks like the above.

The question here isn't about whether Sandmonkey is a big "meanie" for making fun of much of Egypt's population. It is about whether putting people down is helpful in winning them over. I contend that it is not, and because I am such an optimist, I hope the rest of everyone else does too. In fact, because I am pretty sure Sandmonkey is a highly intelligent person, I can't help but think he knows this. The infantilizing tone of his letter is counterproductive to his stated purpose, and I can't imagine him thinking otherwise. What's his deal?

Well, I won't speculate on his behalf, but I'll say this: now is not the time to give in to anger with people who are too afraid to follow. The tone must always remain brotherly or sisterly, not patronizing. People who disagree should not be excluded nor shunned, they should be given continuous gentle pressure to go in the right direction. If we can't handle disagreement without speaking in aggressive undertones, then those we speak to can only wonder why on Earth we want a democracy in the first place. People are not stupid, even the uneducated ones. Nature has granted them the ability to read you instinctively even when they can't do so intellectually and when they get mocking and patronizing vibes it is going to blur the line between your message and that of the regime we just removed.

The comments under his letter are telling too. There is the usual circle of people who feel this is exactly how things should be said, one even suggesting it be translated to Arabic so it can reach the mainstream public (to make sure a maximum number of people get pissed off with being called uncivilized?) Others congratulating him on unleashing his sharp tongue upon those who disagree. Others yet congratulate Sandmonkey on his work so far but wonder why his letter sounds like a "BIG FUCK YOU" to people who don't agree with him.

I think I belong to this latter group. It seems to me that if you say "fuck you" to the people, they are going to respond in kind. This is hardly helpful to overcoming the obstacles that await us. Sharp tongues are nice, but wisdom is required to ensure they are put to effective use.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Egypt - Demotivational Posters

Dont' ask why they're called that. They're just called that. Anyway while I was looking at pictures, I felt like trying my hand at a couple of demotivational posters for a laugh, so here they are. Lemme know what you think!

Truth be told, I have no clue about copyright status on the pics I used. They're not my own. If original owners want these removed or credit to be added, please let me know.

Friday, March 11, 2011

M.E. Revolutions: Serious Game Changer

Many people agree that the fallout from Mid East revolutions is huge and that we're not even close to seeing the full extent of it yet. Here is yet another aspect of this.

In terms of the Israel/Palestine issue, here's how things work. American politicians need to finance campaigns. They go to people who have money for just this purpose. It so happens that if you wanted to find a lot of people willing to donate a lot of money for campaign purposes, the AIPAC Annual Conference is a great place to go. It's really simple. People at AIPAC tell politicians what they want, then help them finance their campaigns, then Palestinians get gangbanged, then everyone is happy (almost).

Of course there is no such lobbying or wealth being spent on the Arab side of the problem. If you don't know Mid East politics you might find this odd since Arabs have no shortage of wealth. What has happened for many years is Arab leadership was either invited to further Israel's agenda and draw personal benefits from that or face stern punishment. Unfortunately however, Arab populations have now embarked on a massive cleaning exercise, and they are taking out the trash. Where will that leave things?

Well, for one thing, Arab governments may actually be required to comply with their peoples' wishes. This, of course, would be a most unfortunate turn of events as lobbying money in D.C. would no longer be spent for the personal benefits of corrupt dictators but for the furthering of Arab populations' interests. Do you see where this is going? Yeah, it's gonna suck.

Imagine if there were an AAPAC to go to for campaign money. An American Arab Public Affairs Committee.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Women's Rights in Egypt?

So I am hearing that today's women's rights march in Tahrir Square didn't go very well. I don't know the details yet but apparently there was aggressive opposition, though hopefully no physical aggression was involved.

Now let me tell you, I have nothing against women's rights. I am convinced that for society to be in anything resembling a harmonious state, each member needs to feel they are treated fairly, and that obviously includes women.

But for fuck's sake, this is just another example of how it seems to me like some of the revolution's big players couldn't plan their way out of a wet paper bag if their lives depended on it. Look at what is happening now. We are now seeing divisions among the people which we really could have done without at this point. The revolution gets diluted a little more every day while the forces we seek to change or remove are doing their best to consolidate and focus with all the discipline they can muster.

Why did the march go wrong? Well there are many reasons. Bigotry, certain interpretations of religion, fear of change, ignorance, and possibly even a concerted effort by some lurking in the shadows to sow division. These lurkers patiently wait for such events so they can do their nasty work. But all of this can be overcome by one thing.


I saw some person on Twitter say women were 63% of the population. That sounds like some serious voting power. Oh wait, we don't actually have voting power! Maybe we should focus on that first? Just a humble suggestion. Surely a president trying to get elected and worrying about women's votes or political parties attempting to rise will lend a far more attentive ear to women's issues - especially if they represent 63% of the vote - than the forces on the ground right now.

I can't believe all this is not completely obvious to everyone. I can only hope as we highlight new social divisions every day and dilute focus on the one thing that could help solve all of them, that we are not somehow endangering our chance to obtain what the martyrs died for.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Egyptian State Security: Reality Check

The Egyptian People Demand More

In the past few days, it has become clear that a segment of the Egyptian population is not satisfied with changes so far and intends to proceed until all demands are met. The one demand that has been particularly in focus in the past few days is about the dismantling of the Egyptian State Security (SS) apparatus. There is, of course good reason for this demand. The fear is that while this apparatus still breathes, the country will never entirely be free. People on Twitter are quick to mention examples like Eastern Europe, where "democracy" was obtained without the dismantling of State Security, and that the same people responsible for State Security were able to hijack the economy and are now among the wealthiest people in those nations.

Dismantling State Security is no small enterprise, however. In wanting to do so, there is reason to believe protesters are not only tugging at the limits of the Egyptian regime, but at the limits of democracy itself. Indeed, all "democratic" nations have State Security organs like the American FBI or French DCRI. Such agencies routinely conduct surveillance on their nation's own citizens and are frequently accused of abusive behavior. One might wonder what would occur in those nations if protesters wanted to storm the buildings and drag all the documents out for everyone and their dog to see. Personally, I'm pretty sure a person or two might get shot, but that's just me.

What Do We Really Want?

When wanting to take down the SS apparatus, some of the things Egyptians want are perfectly understandable. The release of political prisoners comes to mind. Evidence of abuse against the population also comes to mind. Evidence of corruption too. Perhaps more importantly, Egyptians are looking for assurances that past abuses will not be repeated or that SS are not somehow able to manipulate current events in Egypt. True freedom cannot exist when the population is being manipulated and arguably it cannot be fully achieved until the infernal machine is disassembled and laid open for all to see, as some on Twitter have said.

Careful What You Wish For

We must beware though, for ill-conceived dreams are swift to turn into nightmares. Just to be clear, I am not questioning the dream of freedom. I desire it for my country with extreme intensity. One must have the presence of mind to question individual steps on that path though, while never questioning one's commitment to reaching the destination.

There is no assurance whatsoever of what exactly might be found if all of SS documents are seized by the population and thrown out in the open. Some or all of the previously mentioned things are sure to be found, but that wouldn't be all, would it?

There might also be things which implicate Egypt's military in rather unpleasant matters. Because while we've been sitting around romanticizing the army's role in all this, there is no shortage of signs of the Army's complicity with various unfortunate behaviors, which we have conveniently been blaming solely on SS and various assorted groups of thugs. Is that what we want to find? Stuff to blame the Army for? What comes next? Once we find irrefutable evidence of distasteful behavior on the Army's part, what do we do? Go home? Confront it? Because the real question is: IS EVERYONE READY FOR THIS CONFRONTATION? What part of the population will follow? Will the few who dare take it a step beyond that red line simply wind up beaten and jailed by a military tribunal?

Other things we might find include things related to relationships with other nations, including the now infamous "Extraordinary Rendition" program, where the Bush Administration, in its infinite wisdom, set up a sort of torture tourism system not entirely dissimilar to dental or medical tourism. Are we prepared to seriously harm relationships with previously allied nations?

Is There Any Actual Planning Going On?

Everyday, I wonder if anyone is actually thinking about the above. Do people understand what they're going to find at the end of the rope they're tugging on? You don't have to take my word for it but I am pretty sure there is a tiger on the other end of that rope. I'm not saying don't pull. I'm just saying you better be ready. My greatest fear is the idea that the revolution is powered by a bunch of brilliant but emotional people who are doing it all one day at a time, with no contingency planning or backup solutions or even basic arithmetic calculations.

Are We Ready?

I'm not saying it is time to chicken out or give up on our freedom. We have gone too far. If we give up now we might as well just slit our wrists. I am just saying this might be the time to start working through legal and political channels to finish what was started, rather than continue taking the law into our own hands. Maybe we should let the past be and focus on being firm about what we want in our future (this excludes political prisoners, of course, which must be freed - no exceptions.)

If we want to keep tugging on that rope, are we ready for what comes next? Are we ready?

Think long and hard.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

State Security Building Stormed in Alexandria

It would appear that a State Security (affectionately known as SS on Twitter) building has been stormed in Alexandria, Egypt on the night between 4th and 5th March.

An initial crowd gathered as it was noticed that SS were disposing of large amounts of documents through burning and shredding. The crowd rapidly grew. The intent was to protest this blatant destruction of evidence of SS activity. Circumstances are not entirely clear, but it appears SS panicked and opened (live) fire on protesters. In their infinite retardedness, SS personnel actually injured army soldiers. The army response was to storm the building. Protesters also entered the building and began seizing large amounts of documents for use as evidence of SS crimes.

At this time, it appears citizens are still inside the building gathering documents. All SS have been arrested, with possibly one killed(1). At least two army soldiers were reported to be in serious condition after initial shooting from SS.

It is important to note that anyone with half a brain left in the Egyptian population does not have an ounce of sympathy for SS and sees them as nothing more than criminals. They have now opened fire on the army, which is possibly one of the stupidest acts by a state security organization ever.

It further appears that SS in Nasr City in Cairo were also disposing of documents but no protest took place at that location.

More news on this topic:

Al Jazeera - Violent Clashes in Alexandria
BBC News - Egypt: Protesters storm Alexandria state security HQ
Chron.com - Hundreds march on State Security building in Egypt
Egyptian Chronicles (blog) - The fall of the State security kingdom in Egypt
SHE2I2 - Protesting Against State Security in Cairo. Demonstrations & Celebrations in Tahrir Square

(1) Correction: a correction was made to the initial version of this article which previously stated there was one deceased member of SS. It appears now confirmed that no deaths occurred.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

So you want Egypt to be "Normal" Again?

So I spent a couple of weeks in Egypt. Mostly Cairo, a bit in Alex. I got to speak to many types of people. Got to meet some cool activists, but also spoke and met with a number of people who were complaining about the revolution. Most complaints of the latter group centered around problems the business community or shop owners were encountering in keeping things afloat. They all wanted things to go back to "normal". Upon further investigation of what "normal" meant, I was able to hear more specific complaints, and they went something like this:

"Look at these 'revolutionaries'. Most of them don't even agree with each other. So many voices and opinions. We'll never get out of this." ("mesh 7ane7'las!")

Some of the complaints varied on the above theme a little but the central issue seemed to be that the entire nation had to agree as one voice on things or else nothing would move. Well I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if that is what you mean by "normal" then...


Hello? The reason no dissenting voices were heard before was that there was a dictatorship in place. If you are sitting around waiting for no one to disagree about anything anymore then you have not understood democracy. What's that? You're complaining about workers striking and holding things up? Where's the problem? Just negotiate. Negotiate like they do in all the other democracies where workers sometimes strike or protest in other ways to support their demands. It's not the end of the world.

Say buhbye to "normal" and get back in gear. Stop crying and do whatever you have to to get things rolling again. Yes, in the midst of dissent, disagreeing factions, strikes, and all of it. If people in other countries can do it, so can you.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Fond Memories of Baghdad Bob

Big Disclaimer: Before I carry on, I'd like to make it absolutely clear I was not in any way in favor of Iraq's invasion led by the US and never believed propaganda about WMD for a single second. I never bought the bit about them wanting to remove dictators once WMDs turned out to be a complete hoax either. It is abundantly clear today that removing dictators for its own sake is not even close to being on the US foreign policy agenda.

Good. Now that we have that out of the way, I have to say every Arab dictator speech brings back fond memories of Baghdad Bob. Remember him? He was funny as hell. I am talking about Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf who was Iraq's "information" minister during the 2003 invasion of his country. We're using the word "information" in a rather generous manner here, but we might as well so as to give the guy credit for services rendered above and beyond the call of duty, reason, logic, and several other things.

This guy was amazing. He was still mouthing off and making ballsy speeches when armor elements of the US 3rd Infantry Division were rolling into Baghdad. We I saw his final speech I was half expecting him to get tackled to the ground any minute now in mid-sentence. You could see armor maneuvering in the distance behind him as he was saying everything was fine and the infidels were toast.

During recent events, I couldn't help thinking of this guy as I watched dictators make unfortunate speeches in attempts to threaten their population and make like everything is under control even after the point of no return has been crossed by a long way. Their discourse becomes totally disconnected from reality and part of us almost wants to feel sorry for them. (I said "almost".)

What is far from funny, of course, is what those dictators are doing to their population. If it weren't for that, it would be pure comedy.

Monday, February 21, 2011

We Are Not Tunisia or Egypt

We keep hearing this line, don't we. Seriously, it has become a requirement of any Arab leader speech at this point. My concern is that it has become so automatic, in fact, that I'm a little worried the Egyptian government might inadvertently use it if things get messy again in Egypt.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Circumventing Internet Access Restrictions

In recent events across North Africa and the Middle East, access to information and ability to share information have proven crucial tools for people demanding their freedom, and for independent news. It is no surprise then that governments (including Egypt) have at one point or another imposed heavy restrictions on internet access. Some continue to do so.

Depending on the kind of restrictions governments apply to limit or entirely prohibit access to sites like Facebook or Twitter or even the entire internet, some solutions may exist for circumventing these restrictions.

Firstly, take a look at Wikipedia's Internet Censorship page, and pay special attention to the Circumvention section. Some of these solutions may be applicable to your situation. If you have some extra time, also have a look at this article: The Traveler’s Guide To Bypassing Internet Censorship.

Also, Total Social Media's Web 3.0 Lab information page for Bahrain ISPs is very useful. Provides information about ISPs working with the government as well as suggestions for circumventing internet access restrictions. Have a look.

Total Social Media also has an interesting tool called the climaMeter for measuring tweet density at any location in the world. Analysing density of tweets from a particular location can provide clues as to what may be going on or what may be about to happen.

- I am not affiliated with Total Social Media in any way
- Clima is a Trademark of Total Social Media 2011 © All rights reserved

Friday, February 18, 2011

Egypt: Many Revolutions Are Yet to Come

From Wikipedia:

revolution (from the Latin revolutio, "a turn around") is a fundamental change in power or organizational structures that takes place in a relatively short period of time. Its use to refer to political change dates from the scientific revolution occasioned by Copernicus' famous De Revolutionibus Orbium CoelestiumAristotle described two types of political revolution:
  1. Complete change from one constitution to another
  2. Modification of an existing constitution.


Formal definitions aside, it seems to me that revolutions (in the political sense) are usually about people freeing themselves from some sort of oppressive force. If we take a good look at Egypt's January 25th movement under this definition, many questions remain open.

Firstly, I'm at a bit of a loss as to fully defining the Jan25 revolution. What I can say for sure is that we as Egyptians are now free of one particular oppressive force: the one composed of Mubarak and his entourage. My certainty stops there however. For now, we're not even sure we are or will be free of military rule, despite the army's reassuring statements. When one observes communication from various fragmented groups in the aftermath of the revolution, it appears people are still complaining about all sorts of oppression.

For starters, I am seeing women take a stand (at least on the net) for themselves, and rightly so. Issues range from inadequate representation in decision-making circles to rampant harassment to various other women's rights issues - some closely related to religious matters. One can only conclude then, that whatever oppresses them was not dealt with within the Jan 25th movement. This is normal, not all things can be done at once. But it does indicate that their revolution is yet to come.

Another recurring theme in recent days is about freedom of religion and belief. Much discussion has taken place regarding the constitution's notorious Article 2. The religious problem goes beyond the issues Coptic Egyptians usually face. Twitter users are quick to mention you are risking jail if you declare yourself to be atheist or that you belong to any number of other belief systems including Scientology, Jehova's Witness or Bahaii. If various religious groups are to benefit from any freedom, it is likely they will also have to stand up for their rights at some point in the future. This, unfortunately, will be no easy battle by my humble estimates.

Likewise, ongoing strikes in multiple sectors indicate that workers have not entirely - some would argue not even close - freed themselves from what ails them. As the country braces for the removal or at least increased scrutiny of various corrupt practices, workers worry about their pay. This is because the aforementioned corrupt practices were woven into everyone's life. How is an employee earning between LE200 to LE400 a month supposed to feed a family? Bribes were a part of everyday life. If they go, then the pay needs to change. Whether or not all the corruption will actually stop is still an open issue as well.

Many more problems exist in Egyptian society and not all were resolved within the revolution. In fact, the only issue that was terminally resolved was Mubarak's departure. Everything else is still up in the air. It seems we were far more focused on what we were getting away from than on where we were headed. We knew we wanted democracy, but no one really had a plan, except maybe the army and to a lesser extent the Brotherhood. In hindsight, it seems they were the only ones to hit the ground running when Mubarak bailed out.

Some of these revolutions will never take place, because nature can be cruel like that. Others will resolve themselves naturally if/when democracy settles in and we can vote our way to a better future. Others yet may require wide-scale demonstrations and strikes, and will further test the Egyptian citizen's resolve.

The danger now is having a premature sense of closure as the world's attention moves on to other rapidly changing countries and the excitement dies down. Or of letting the energy fade as physical and emotional exhaustion kick in after the difficult test Egypt's people have had to endure. The above-mentioned issues and many more are NOT closed.

The pursuit of freedom requires relentless vigilance.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

One Last Speech?

I am thinking this isn't going to be a very popular idea, but I'm increasingly feeling Mubarak should make one last speech. One from the heart, one with nothing to lose -- and nothing to gain.

If he were to make one last public appearance to tell us how he feels, what he thinks he did well, what he thinks were terrible mistakes. To tell us he loves his country and he is sorry about things that went wrong.

Anything he says may utterly lack credibility for many, but he'd be saying this with no political gains in mind. It's not like he could return or his son could return. The Egyptian people are so kind-hearted that we don't actually know how to hate. I think we would listen, we would nod our approval at him making one sincere speech and we would move on.

I think one last speech would change the image he will leave in the history books. What do you think?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Huge Opportunities Are About to be Missed

And the consequences are going to last for decades. I am talking about representation in talks with Egypt's Temporary Military Administration. Why?

People are complaining that this and that group isn't represented, typically women, youth, religions other than Islam, and others. I am also hearing a lot of complaints about possible Muslim Brotherhood over-representation.

You know why the MB is well represented? It is dead simple. Some dude showed up and said "Hey, I represent all those people here, equaling X% of Egyptian society and we would like our voices heard." In a transition to democracy, no one can refuse such a request.

But what are those other people doing? The ones complaining? Well I don't want to be harsh, but from what I can tell some are still working hard to further their democratic agenda, but many are either taking a break, or basking in the glory, or painting their toenails or whatever. History is still being written. It is being written RIGHT NOW. Toppling Mubarak was only the beginning.

People who want to be represented need to do something about it. No one is going to be more royalist than the king. If you aren't doing anything to make sure your views, your religion, or your gender is benefiting from proper representation then you are de facto accepting whatever outcome nature provides you with.

Freedom is not asked for, it is taken. That, the Egyptian people have done. The same holds true for all the following steps. If you want more women representatives, youth representatives, or any others, they must be selected and endorsed by other women, youth or whatever demographic they're from and they must be IMPOSED in talks.

What will occur in the following months will likely influence the course of matters for decades. There are huge opportunities right this moment, including adding a feminist revolution component to the vast changes we are experiencing.

If these opportunities are missed, try again in 2060.


So I've been in Cairo since the 11th now. Got here on the day Egypt moved on from 30 years of stagnation. Been to Tahrir Square at least for a while every day, got some pictures and video of various events.

One of the things that really impressed me was seeing citizens, many of whom were protesters, putting great care into cleaning the square and even repainting the sidewalks. The sense of solidarity is amazing. People don't hesitate to ask others for help. I saw a long human chain of people holding hands to protect fresh paint on a sidewalk in the square. The atmosphere on those first few days was like living in a utopia.

I also saw police/security forces demonstrate yesterday. It was odd and a little surreal. These people shot citizens.

Now, much remains to be done, and things get a little more serious as the euphoria settles. One of the challenges I see is preserving the same energy level for change after things go back to "normal".

Friday, February 11, 2011

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Confusion... Mubarak Stepping Down?

Apparently Mubarak is stepping down today. The atmosphere seems totally electric in Cairo. Outside Egyptians all over are also overexcited.

It first seemed to begin with Hossam Badrawi, SecGen of the NDP ruling party telling several people and/or news services he felt it was likely president Mubarak would step down. Some time later came this video interview.

Several other statements including one from the military came to add to the picture, though vaguely. Rumors replaced other rumors by the minute, stating that he'd left the country, or gone to the Sharm el Sheikh resort, or that he was still in Cairo. Confusion reigns supreme at this time.

Twitter went crazy the moment this all started and continues to see heavy traffic at this time.

The entire world now awaits the statement Mubarak is supposed to make tonight.

I'll be arriving in Cairo tomorrow. Depending on how this televised statement goes, I might land in the midst of a carnival or in a warzone. We'll see.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Things Egyptians Abroad Can Do to Help

I see a lot of questions on social media about how Egyptians abroad can help the revolution. Truth be told, I wonder sometimes too. I've decided I was going at the end of this week to be there and see what I can do. I haven't found anything online which lists things we can do to help. Here's a few other things I can think of:

1) If you can, go to Egypt!

I know there are various cleanup projects to participate in, or even just going to Tahrir Square and helping hold it is a great thing. If you have reason to (safely) visit other locations that have less media coverage and are able to provide information from those places (Suez comes to mind) you would be helping a lot.

2) Inform friends and acquaintances at your location

This is a leaderless movement. That means every Egyptian abroad is an ambassador. Talk to people, listen to and address their fears or questions in total honesty. Dispel myths and erroneous rumors, or preconceived ideas.

It's amazing, it feels like half the world has been to Egypt on vacation one time or the other but so many of those people don't know anything about the place or subscribe to incorrect notions. Don't be pushy about it, just provide a friendly information service.

3) Keep informing yourself

This may sound obvious but it is a prerequisite to the previous point. Staying informed might not sound like much but it keeps you involved and it helps you inform others and spread the word.

Also keep informed of support gatherings for Egypt in your area and help spread the word about them locally as well as on social media. It is great for those who are there to know so many people are with them and appreciate what they are doing.

4) Financial contributions

I'm not sure at this point whether safe methods of making financial contributions from abroad exist, but I'll update this as soon as I become aware of something suitable.

5) If you have more ideas...

Post comments and they will be added.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Google's Crisis Response Page for Egypt

Google's crisis response page can be found HERE.

The page is available in English or Arabic and provides useful information including:

- internet access
- useful phone numbers
- useful maps
- NGO information
- news

and more.

Excellent Video Depicting Jan 25th Events

Was given a link to this video earlier, now I can't stop watching.

I am Egyptian

My name is Adham. The urge to write the above words for the world to see took me a little by surprise. I have always been averse to any form of nationalism, wherever it may originate. I have also lived most of my life outside Egypt. I have lived in great places, and met great people.

Don’t get me wrong, I have always been proud of where I came from. But I wasn’t really sure why. It just seemed like you had to be proud of where you came from. If I thought a bit, I found some reasons… good food, pyramids, bla bla bla. I remember when I was a kid and found out South American cultures had pyramids too, I was kinda bummed. I hurried to check ours were bigger.

Every time I looked towards Egypt, or visited, or saw an Egyptian team in international sport, a powerful sense of belonging would come over me. It would come, and it would pass. But after the past two weeks it will never pass again while I still breathe. Now I know, I know deep inside me:

I am Egyptian.

I sat and wondered where this change came from. I set upon inspecting my own beliefs. I’ve always thought that we were great, friendly people. Many of us achieved success on an individual level in many fields and many countries, just like people from other countries. On an individual level, we were no less than anyone else. What I also believed though, is that as a people we would never stand up for our rights. I couldn’t see how this would ever change. It was too complicated.

In the past couple of weeks, people proved me wrong. They stood up, at great personal expense, and took massive risks to demand our rights. They continue to do so. Some have fallen and will never be forgotten. Others continue to put their necks on the line every day to stand up for what they believe in, for what we all believe in.

No matter what happens now, these people have brought about changes that can never be undone. Changes that will affect not only themselves, but every Egyptian. We owe these people a debt of gratitude we will never be able to repay.

To those who did what had to be done, who relentlessly pursued freedom in the face of violence, intimidation, fear, and even opposition by their fearful peers…

Thank you.