Report on “Rage Day”

January 27th, 2011 by Editor

Sanctuary

 

A 1993 Egyptian movie starring one of the most popular Egyptian movie stars, Adel Imam, was about an ordinary man who went to AlTahrir compound to sign a piece of paper that would allow him to transfer his son from one school to another where millions of Egyptian go everyday for official papers to be issued and signed. Frustrated with bureaucracy and by his own helplessness to finish a simple matter of formality due to the system and the corruption, he was accidentally thought to be a terrorist holding people there hostage after he found himself with the gun of one of the security officers in his hands. Later into the movie, a scene showed him communicating with the head of the security force dispatched to deal with his situation and he asked the hostages, whom he became friends with, about what they wanted to live comfortably. They talked about prices, education, the penal system, people’s dignity among other things, so he turned around and called the security forces leader telling him that he only wanted the regime to be overthrown.

For the third consecutive days, Egyptians have been coming to the same conclusion as the slogans they’ve been shouted varied from calls for the government to raise the minimum wages, fix the problem of unemployment, reform education, conduct political reforms, end poverty to calls for the dissolution of the parliament, abiding by the judicial rulings of the past election and finally overthrowing the regime and denouncing the president. The slogans were shouted together almost at the same time by different groups in the same area in a way that suggests that change is the only thing everyone agrees on, and overthrowing this government, changing the constitution and ousting president Mubarak always come as the conclusion of different series of slogans.

For the third consecutive day, youth continue to stand in the streets cheering against the government enduring the oppressive practices by the security forces ranging from using clubs to shooting live bullets into the crowds in the first civil disobedience in the modern history of Egypt in more than 30 years.

2010 and the first very few weeks of 2011 represented the last drop of an endless sea of frustrations which included corruption, economic deterioration and a total disregard of human rights. In 2010, a few major events served as the introduction to this last chapter of the myth of Egyptians’ total apathy. On the 6th of January, 2010 the massacre of Nag’ Hamadi announced the beginning of a very hard year for Egyptians when a Muslim opened fire on Christians coming out of a church killing 7 and injuring 9. It was later explained that this was retribution after a Christian man was accused of raping a Muslim girl. The series of sectarian violence continued through minor incidents through the years until the 24th of November when the events of Al-Omraniya took place when a church was denied permission for constructional work which led to a demonstration of 600 people, 2 of which have been murdered during the demonstration. The last major event in the series of sectarian violence has finally taken place in Alexandria in the first week of the new year when the massacre of the Al-Qideseen Church took place in Alexandria when 23 were murdered while Christians were on their way out of the church.

Government corruption has been exposed in more than one way this last year the most important of which was when the file of state owned land was opened when the High Administrative Court issued a ruling invalidating the contract of selling land Tal’at Mustafa Group on which they built the residential constructional project, Madinti. The case stirred a discussion about the questionable relationship between businessmen and the government in the light of the reign of what’s commonly know as the “government of businessmen” in Egypt. This government is primarily made up of businessmen who own businesses in the fields of their ministries’ specializations. Accusations have been made against Ahmed Al-Maghrabi for selling a piece of land with the market value of a billion Egyptian pound for less than 500 million Egyptian pounds to the company owned by both him and his cousin, Yasin Mansour.

Government inadequacy has also been a contributing factor in building up the rage which is still exploding all over Egypt. January of last year witnessed collapses, deaths, injuries, and total paralysis of all functions in the governorate of North Sinai due to heavy rain as a result of the total lack of any safety measures. Also prices hiked more than once thus sending the prices of basic commodities through the roof which was protested several times. Meat, vegetables and fruit have come to be almost unaffordable for the Egyptian people at one point and in different variation. Also 29% have been reported to suffer from unemployment as the Egyptian debt reached the extent of 750 billion Egyptian pounds. Also it has been reported that 39% Egyptians live under the poverty line (1 dollar per day). Many other problems of illiteracy, random housing, and an increasing gab between a reach minority and an overwhelming poor majority also contributed to this sense of governmental inadequacy. On the 5th of March reports have been made about the illness of the president after which rumors spread that he has cancer specially that he almost never shows in public which also contributed to such a feeling and to fear from the fact that he never appointed a vice president. Even in arts, a famous painting has been stolen from an Egyptian museum which led to questions being raised about the validity of security measures taken by the ministry and to why the Minister, Farouq Husny hasn’t been directly questioned for the shortcoming.

The issue of freedom of expression has been one more additional factor in the long list of the “agents of desperation”. The case of Ibrahim Eissa has exploded on the 4th of October of 2010 which has posed a start of a series of events when several satellite channels have been closed which brought back the memories of the constant harassment of bloggers and opposition journalists and media representatives.

AL-Barad’is arrival to Egypt in February was a mark on the path of political debate which is mostly distinguished with the violence directed by the authorities against the opposition and demonstrators. This began in April when representatives of the National Democratic ruling Party have openly called for shooting the protesters of the 6th of April movement. Also, on the 5th of September, emergency law has been extended for two more years to then enter the 30th consecutive year under the rule of emergency law. The continuation of emergency law led to the death of Khaled Saed; a young man who was brutally beaten to death by two police detectives before the shocked eyes of the people of Alexandria. The murder of Saed was the mark of the beginning of a long process of demonstrations and protests and a made up story by the government along with a questionable medical report stating that Saed dying due to swallowing an illusionary packet of drugs the detectives were looking for. The incidents brought intense criticism of the emergency law and constant calls to terminate the state of emergency that enables the government to use excessive force and cruelty against its opponents and against protestors and media representatives.

Corruption worked side by side with the effects of the emergency law and the flawed package of constitutional amendments which had passed in 2007 through a referendum that’s questionable at best during the elections of both the Shura Council and the People’s Assembly. The elections of the Shura Council started on the 6th of June and has been characterized with heavy fraud and violence against voters and resulted a tainted winning for the NDP. The approach of the second elections of the People’s Assembly and the events that took place during such elections resulted in total rage against the regime, and evacuated political life from any meaningfulness. Follow the link for a full analytical report on the Egyptian parliamentary elections of 2010: http://en.eohr.org/2010/12/25/egyptian-parliamentary-elections-last-straw/

The government’s provocative attitude in dealing with these issues showed a great deal of undermining of the mentality of the people and completely ruined their credibility. The comic shows of priests and sheikhs hugging while Salim Al-Awa and Bishop Bishoy exchanged insults and Takfiri claims on the pages of newspapers and through TV shows, the illegal medical report claiming drugs to be Saed’s cause of death while many eye witnesses described his brutal murder and while his body showed the marks of such beating, the claims of transparency while journalists were being harassed and channels were being closed, the allegations of democracy and political reform while elections were being rigged, and the provocative statements made by government officials in response of the different crises protested by Egyptians all showed that there is a total disconnection between the people and the government; as if they live in two different countries. The perfect example of this is the statement made by the Minister of Agriculture, Amin Abaza, in response of protests made against the hiking prices of vegetables and fruit after the already sky rocketing prices of meat as he wondered why Egyptians need to eat salad, and why don’t they cook with ready made sauce instead of using fresh tomatoes as if the solution for any crisis is for Egyptians to adopt with the problems no matter how big and important for the people it is; not for the government to seek solutions and analyze reasons. Protests have been also made against the low minimum wages which have been responded to without sincere attempts of answering to them.  

The beginning of 2011 brought even more pressure after the Al-Qidiseen Church incident as the example of Tunis where the people succeeded in ousting their president set an example for the Arab countries which suffer from similar problems.

Along these lines, an open invitation has been initiated on facebook to hold demonstrations on the 25th of January (Police Day) similar to the demonstrations of Tunisia which led to the overthrowing of the government there.

The first day began with peaceful demonstrations and reports showed that both the police and the demonstrators exercised major self control and refrained from violence. But as protestors grew in number in different governorates including Cairo, Alexandira, Suez, North Sinani and Al-Gharbiya, and as things started crowds in different locations started connected leading up to the formation of larger crowds, the security forces started being harsh with the demonstrations warning them that they should disperse. When demonstrators started an open strike and decided they’re not going home until there demands are met, the security forces starting dispersing them using water hoses and tear gas bombs.

The second day witnessed demonstrations in even more governorates which swept through the country and in some governorates continued until the minute of writing this report on Thursday. Flagrant violations have been made through all this and the result was even more provocation on the part of the government which led to setting tomorrow, Friday 28/1/2011, as the “Day of Overwhelming Rage”.

Major themes should be examined within the course of these events. The first is the method of mobilization. It’s safe to say that the movement taking place in Egypt right now whatever the history will choose to call it is a pure online invention as invitation and promotion were almost entirely done online. Almost reporting violations during the demonstrations and even asking for help is happening online. The websites of the Original Dostor, Facebook, Al-Youm Al-Sabi’ newspaper and Twitter are frequented by hundreds of thousands to look for news, share information and exchange opinions. Facebook and Twitter are also used as alternative mediums of meetings where plans are put and instructions dispatched. In that regard, EOHR confirms that Twitter, Facebook and Bambused have been blocked yesterday for several hours, and the Original Dostor website has been blocked today. As such, it shows how strong the government is considering these outlets are. Interactive websites like Facebook and Twitter showed one of the most remarkable examples of a rare Egyptian consensus. Reports show that a big part of the demonstrators belong to upper middle and upper class youth who’re nicknamed the “Facebook Beetles” as a way to describe how spoiled they are. This is a new demographic profile of mass demonstrations in Egypt where fresh faces are experiencing the sting of human rights violations for the first time which shows that no agendas are behind its organization per se. the testimonies of many protestors show that they individually went to popular locations expecting that nobody else would be there before they gathered in squares and side streets alike. This new demographic profile raises questions as to why the government and its media outlets are trying that hard to “blame” the current situation on the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) against the overwhelming evidence of the popular, non central nature of these demonstrations which amount to the extent of civil disobedience. Statements accused the MB of manipulating the feelings of youth to further their own political agenda which pushed the MB to finally make a statement last night to announce its full participation in the anticipated demonstrations of the 28th for the first time since the beginning of the “Rage Day” events on the 25th as if sending the government the message of “you asked for it”.

However, following international response explains a lot regarding this effort done by the government to paint the current events as events stirred by MB. Responses came shy in the beginning condemning violence “on both parts” by the United States (US) and Germany. Calls were made to respect the rights of demonstrators by several European countries, but Hillary Clinton made a statement that Egypt’s government is stable which was almost shocking to activists in Egypt who though the US will be the first to condemn the brutality of the Egyptian regime against demonstrators based on its constant calls for democracy and transparency. The Egyptian regime has probably detected the implications of this critical situation the US found itself in, and decided to give it and itself the usual easy way out; fear of Islamism. Articles in national newspapers this morning accused MB of inciting violence and called demonstrators: “the victims of the Muslim Brotherhood”. Other sources have raised questions as to who and why these events have been incited and displayed distrust towards the possible source of mobilization. However, testimonies of demonstrators on social networks show much independent motivation not accompanied with affiliations with any organizations or groups in particular while the youth of the 6th April Movement assumed leadership in the field so far regarding organizing the maps of the demonstrations according to reports.

A second major theme is that of the demands made by Egyptians. As mentioned in the introduction of the report, the slogans cheered by demonstrators included everything including prices, unemployment, constitutional reform, political reform, economic reform, emergency law, corruption, poverty and ended with open demands to oust Mubarak’s regime completely and demands made for the government to be replaced and for the NDP to be removed from power. The Egyptian people are now coming to an overwhelming realization; individual changes won’t do, only a structural radical change is acceptable as they expressed in their statements on Facebook and in their comments on the different news websites.

In the middle of all that, a very important question has to be asked on the response of different parties. Egyptians seem only more provoked by the excessive violence used against them. The violence reported in the first and second day only incited more enthusiasm as calls for Friday’s Rage have overwhelmed everyone in spite of the best efforts of the government. Their response to violence is different this time from any other time. Reports of murder and open fire has triggered nothing but more persistence and the clashes amounted to the extent of open fighting between security forces and people in several places especially in Suez where the situation is terrifyingly ambiguous as reports of the involvement of military forces and exchange of open fire are spread through internet and between the concerned people who can’t access Suez or even contact it through phone or e-mail. However, all this only made youth more determined to go out in demonstrations tomorrow.

The response of the political powers in the country is also very interesting to look at. While EOHR along with 15 other human rights organizations formed a network for legal aid and observation of the events through press releases and statements, opposition powers jumped at the opportunity and put their weight behind the people. It’s up to interpretation why MB chose to only minimally support the ongoing demonstrations until last night when they declared they would put their full weight behind the demonstrations of Friday. Some may think that this was a smart move on their part as they denied the government any credibility in claiming that the demonstrations don’t genuinely express the Egyptian people. Some others may think that MB wanted to wait to know just how successful this is going to be before they put their weight and risk the arrest and harassment of their members. Whatever the interpretations are, MB has clearly refrained from fully participating in these events until now.

It might be the most interesting of all to study the response of the Egyptian government and its affiliates. The first day of demonstrations, the 25th, has largely been quiet almost all day long as it was clear that both demonstrators and the governments wanted to be sure not to be the first to blink. However with the progress of the day, it was clear that even without violence, these demonstrations couldn’t be tolerated as protestors declared they won’t be going home before their demands are met. As such attempts were made to disperse demonstrators after which water hoses and tear gas bombs have been used. In Suez however, an uncalculated hasty move was done when live bullets were fired on demonstrators leading to the death of three of them. Violence became the theme of the day and the Ministry of Interior made a statement the following morning declaring that these are no longer “peaceful” demonstrations and won’t be dealt with as such. From that point on, intense security presence has been witnessed all over the country as over 20,000 state security soldiers were loaded into Downtown alone. In spite of this heavy presence of security forces, demonstrations ensued in even more governorates with worst stories of violence using clubs, tear gas bombs, tanks, rubber bullets and even live bullets on the part of the government. The number of arrests were phenomenal and Suez was locked from all sides as open clashes occurred between the security forces and the people who were trying to bury the victims of the previous day. Clashes there developed into an open fight as the people burnt a police station and the headquarters of the NDP there. 5000 of the people of Suez spent the night in Al-Geish Street refusing to go home till morning when demonstrations and fights resumed as telephone lines and networks were disconnected, internet was banned and just now electricity and water were denied too.

On the other hand, the political response wasn’t any less violent. Statements were made that “we understood the demands of the people” and at the same time condemning demonstrations and claiming that security forces have been restraining themselves. Only one press conference was held by Safwat Al-Sherif in the headquarters of the NDP, and there is a total absence of any media presence of president Mubarak. Reports are made the government and NDP are holding  a meeting tonight to study the possible reforms that could be made in response to people’s demands while still calling demonstrators an “externally inserted minority” which doesn’t represent the people; only some youth who’re manipulated by other groups with political agendas. At the same time, the state sponsored television and newspapers chose to deal comically with the whole issue as the first page of the biggest national newspaper, Al-Ahram, reported the exchange of flowers and chocolate between security forces and the people on the Police Day as a way of celebration thus totally disregarding the death of four people after a long day of civil disobedience. The Egyptian national television on the other hand chose to focus intensely on Lebanon as if they live in a parallel universe where Egypt doesn’t exist. Journalists, photographers and reporters have been detained and harassed and their cameras and recording devices have been confiscated in several locations.

In the light of all that, we can’t but guess about what’s going to happen tomorrow. We recognize the difficult situation the Egyptian government finds itself in today. Making compromises means that they’re responding to the demands the most important and agreed on of which is ousting the whole regime. If they give the protestors that kind of hope, there’s a possibility that they won’t stop no matter what; the example of Tunisia and the last dying desperate moves of the government to calm the people comes to mind. The second option is the continuous escalation which only proved more motivating for the Egyptian people to continue with their demonstrations so far; the example of almost all modern revolutions comes to mind.

Within that context, it seems that Egyptians are only asking for sanctuary from so many violations they’ve been through for decades. Egypt’s almost total disregard of human rights and the government’s insistence on undermining people’s mentalities and abilities added to its obvious corruption served as the golden ingredients of the perfect recipe of unrest. Getting back to normal seems impossible now. However, anything is possible. With the full participation of MB tomorrow added to the building rage throughout the country, it’s expected that tomorrow is going to be a bloody day in the history of Egypt after which nobody knows what’s really going to happen. Online observing pages are still open, but there are reports that phone networks will be down tomorrow starting 12 P.M. which means that efforts of monitoring the events of demonstrations will be harder and calling legal aid and medical assistance will be impossible in case such reports materialize. EOHR and other human rights organizations have been warning tirelessly that this will be the inevitable result of constant human rights violations and disregard of Egypt’s constitutional and international obligations regarding the rights of people to practice their political rights, expression, assembly, free trial, equal opportunity, freedom of discrimination, education and legal rights.

 

This entry was posted on Thursday, January 27th, 2011 at 7:20 pm and is filed under Statements. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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