Last night at the National Liberal Club, Liberal International British Group hosted a panel discussion on the political situation in Egypt, with former Nile TV presenter Shahira Amin, democracy activist Ahmed Naguib (via skype), the Treasurer of Liberal International, Robert Woodthorpe Browne (who has been involved in a lot of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s recent work in Egypt) and myself. As the discussion was (rightly) held under the Chatham House Rule, I cannot divulge what any of the others said, but I can share some of the things I talked about. As the two Egyptian participants gave such a comprehenesive and coheremnt picture of today’s political realities and challenges, I complemented their presentations by reminding people about the highs and lows of the mood on Cairo’s Tahrir Square in January/February 2011, including the prominent role played by brave women and the way that Muslims and Christian Copts protected each other when they were at prayer. But those who dubbed the phenomenon that started in Tunisia the previous December “The Arab Spring” were always way out on their time-frame. I believed that then and believe it even more strongly now: it will be 30 or 40 years before it becomes clear how the whole New Arab Awakening works out, but what is sure is that Egypt is the test case of its success or failure. It has always had a pole position in the Arab mentality, not just because it is by far the most populous nation in the the Arab world but also because of Cairo’s (Sunni) religious and intellectual pre-eminence. Field Marshal Sisi’s victory in the recent presidential election was a foregone conclusion, though it was notable that in each electoral district there were tens of thousands of spoiled ballot papers. But for the majority of Egyptians (rather than the wealthier, educated elite) the prime concern at the moment is economic survival: bread not ballots. Western commentators like myself rightly focus on matters such as human rights abuses, including the systematic use of torture in detention centres. But the key thing that any Egyptian government, now and for the foreseable future, has to tackle is how to overcome the huge inequalities in Egypt and to provide enough, reasonably-paid work for the predominantly young population. Otherwise, there is likely to be a growing, disenchanted body of youth who could be tempted by something far more radical than the Muslim Brotherhood that was ousted from power. And that bodes ill.
Posts Tagged ‘Cairo’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 3rd June, 2014
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Ahmed Naguib, Arab Spring, Cairo, Copts, Egypt, Field Marshal Sisi, Liberal International, Liberal International British Group, Muslim Brotherhood, Muslims, New Arab Awakening, Robert Woodthorpe Browne, Shahira Amin, Tunisia | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 25th January, 2014
This afternoon I addressed a boisterous but very good-natured, mainly young crowd of Egyptians rallying outside their London Embassy in Mayfair, in commemoration of the 25 January 2011 Revolution. As I said in my short speech, on that day — and for many days afterwards — I sat glued to Al Jazeera watching with emotion what was happening in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. There were highs and lows during the Revolution, on the one hand a magnificent example of people of different ages, genders, religions and political persuasions, united in their determination for change. For a while it seemed as if Hosni Mubarak would not go, and on one terrible day, a large band of thugs on horseback and on camels, came charging into the square, whipping and slashing around them. But then Mubarak did accept defeat and stood down, to widespread euphoria. But there is little euphoria among Egyptians today, particularly since the coup that ousted Mohamed Morsi and the introduction of laws that ban protests and curb other civil rights. As I said to today’s crowd, Mubarak was not ousted in order for another military-led regime to take office. Egyptians, like the British, deserve freedom and justice and true democracy, in which they can express their opinions without fear of arrest, and in which they can vote for who they want, not just those they are told they are allowed to support. Revolutions are rarely easy and it would perhaps have been too much to expect that in three short years Egypt could have made a satisfactory transition to a fairer system, after decades of effective dictatorship and repression. But I urged people not to lose hope. Change will come, soon, if people strive for it: bukra, inshallah
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 17th November, 2012
When the Welfare Association* conceived the idea of a fundraising gala dinner in aid of disadvantaged children in Palestine, to be held at the Bloomsbury Big Top in central London, they can have had no idea that that event this evening would coincide with renewed fighting between Gaza’s Hamas and Israel, in which several Palestinian children have already been victims. The Middle East, which I have been following for well over 40 years, is an unending tragedy, complex and multi-dimensional. But any objective observer must come to the conclusion that in all of this chaos the Palestinians have been the big losers. And as so often in conflict situations the humanitarian burden falls most heavily on those least able to bear it. So this evening, around 600 people gathered under the big top to be entertained by trapeze artists and acrobats, the Palestinian-Jordanian singer Zeina Barhoum and other musicians, but most important, to demonstrate solidarity with the children of Palestine — tens of thousands of them disabled or else traumatised by conflict — whose lives can be eased thanks to projects for which a healthy six-figure sum was raised. Clare Short, the former Labour MP who nobly resigned from the party in protest at Tony Blair’s illegal war in Iraq, made a short speech, but those of us who were there needed little reminding of the necessity and urgency of the cause. It was good that many young people who have high-earning jobs in the City were there, to bid at auction for works of art by Andrew Martin, Alexander Mcqueen and others. Barclays Bank was also a ‘platinum sponsor’. Coincidentally, the Arab League held an emergency meeting in Cairo today to discuss how to react to the current crisis. The Qatari Foreign Minister warned about the potential emptiness of yet another declaration. At least tonight those at the Welfare Association dinner made a real contribution that will get to those who most need assistance.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Alexander Mcqueen, Andrew Martin, Arab League, Bloomsbury Big Top, Cairo, Clare Short, Gaza, Hamas, Israel, Palestine, Qatar, Tony Blair, Welfare Association, Zeina Barhoum | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 26th January, 2012
What better way to celebrate in London the first anniversary of the 25 January Egyptian Revolutionary movement than to join a stimulating crowd of fellow hacks, human rights activists, Arabists and UK-based Atab intellectuals at the launch of a new book about the extraordinary events in Cairo last year by Abdel Latif El-Manawy, who had the job of overseeing news content at the state broadcaster, the Egyptian Radio and Television Union (ERTU), in the ancien régime’s final days? From his privileged insider position he was able –and willing — to tell Hosni Mubarak it was time to go, but that still makes him a controversial figure among many Egyptian revolutionaries who wonder quite how he was able to slide gracefully from the old situation into the new one in which the army has essentially been in charge. Mr El-Manawy last night described what happened at Tahrir Square as a ‘critical explosion’. I picked up my copy of ‘Tahrir: The Last 18 Days of Mubarak’ at the party thrown by Gilgamesh publishers at Daunt Books in Marylebone, so have not yet had the chance to read it. But I shall be fascinated to digest not only Abdel Latif’s El-Manawy’s take on the events between the first mass occupation of Tahrir Square and Mubarak’s stepping down, but also to see how he reconciles what he did at the head of an organisation essentially treading a tightrope between media objectivity and propaganda. In the meantime, I shall reserve judgement. Besides, everyone at the launch was too exhilirated by the events of the past year to carp, despite concerns about how successful Egypt’s revolution will prove to be in te end, and even deeper fears about the prognosis for Syria. But in the cold light of morning, we shall see. I shall review the book in due course.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 5th January, 2012
Sitting in Beirut watching Al Jazeera as Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s ousted President, was being wheeled into the Cairo courtroom today for the prosector’s final statement raised mixed emotions inside me. Like many of my Egyptian friends, I am still in a half-daze of disbelief that the Revolution actually managed to get rid of the wretched man. But as a European — and therefore a citizen of a continent which has eschewed the death penalty (at least so far as the EU 27 are concerned) — I am also perplexed by the prosecutor’s demand for the death sentence. I have no doubt of Mubarak’s guilt, not only in overseeing the killings and harassment of protestors duing the Tahrir Square demonstrations, but also of presiding over threee decades of a corrupt regime in which torture and human rights abuses were commonplace and he and his family syphoned off not millions but many billions of dollars. To add insult to injury, he was even trying to engineer a succession for his favourite son, Gamal, who has at times during recent weeks been alongside him in the dock. Unlike in the case of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, an even more monstruous dictator who was despatched without dignity after his death sentence, Mubarak is unlikely to face the hangman’s noose. He is seriously ill — though how seriously is a matter of controversy– and he is quite likely to expire before all legal proceedings (including probable appeals) are exhausted. I believe the highest level of command in the Egyptian army would also be extremely reluctant to see their former Commander in Chief swing. But in the meantime, many of us who metophorically popped champagne corks when Mubarak finally resigned may well find ourselvew obliged to sign petitions against his execution, in favour of life imprisonment, on humanitarian grounds.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 17th December, 2011
A year ago today the young Tunisian itinerant fruit-seller Mohamed Bouazizi set fire to himself outside the municipal offices in the southern town of Sidi Bou Zid. He had reached the end of his tether after months of harassment and humiliation at the hands of the police and the authorities; little could he know that his act would trigger the undiginfied departure into exile of longstanding President Ben Ali and the beginning of the so-called Arab Spring (which I prefer to refer to as the New Arab Awakening). A year on, the leaders of Egypt, Libya and Yemen have gone and Syria’s President Assad is under threat. But the democratisaton process has been neither as swift nor as smooth as that which happened in central and eastern Europe 22 years ago. People are still losing their lives, not only in the worsening civil war in Syria, but also in ongoing incidents in Egypt, notably. It is still far from clear whether Egypt’s Revolution will lead to what many of the liberal-minded demonstrators in Tahrir Square in Cairo hoped for. Moreover, minor disturbances or marches continue in other parts of the Arab world, including Jordan and Saudi Arabia. It is not only dictatorial presidents who are potentially at risk now but also some hereditary monarchs. But even though Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-sacrifice was an act of despair, as Tunisia today leads commemorations of the first anniversary of his self-immolation, there is hope that at least in some parts of the Middle East and North Africa we are seeing the dawn of greater respect for the aspirations of ordinary people and for human rights.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Arab Spring, Assad, Ben Ali, Cairo, Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Mohamed Bouazizi, New Arab Awakening, Saudi Arabia, self immolation, Sidi Bou Zid, Syria, Tahrir Square, Tunisia, Yemen | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 6th October, 2011
The Arab Awakening has been an emotional experience for many people in North Africa and the Middle East; I confess I too wept on 11 February when the announcement finally came in Cairo’s Tahrir Square that Hosni Mubarak had stepped down and a great roar went up from the crowd, who were just finishing their prayers. All this seen live on Al Jazeera, of course, the Qatar-based channel that streamed the Egyptian Revolution. This evening, at City University in London, the recently retired (or evicted?) Director General of Al Jazeera, the Palestinian-born Wadah Khanfar, admitted while giving his largely unscripted James Cameron Memorial Lecture that he too had wept twice during the events of the recent months. Once was when his car ran into a celebrating crowd on the Corniche in Doha on 11 February and people who recognised him entered his car and kissed him to thank him for the contribution to the Arab Spring (if one must call it that) of freedom and democracy by his channel. The second time was when an Al Jazeera reporter who had been arrested and tortured in Libya by Gaddafi’s thug apparatus came back to Doha after his release and presented Wadah Khanfar with an apple, which had been given to him by one of his jailors, who had brought it from his garden and who apologised for his treatment, thanked him for what Al Jazeera was doing and said that he and the other officers had only done what they had done because the regime was holding their wives and children hostage.
After the lecture, I asked Wadah if the fact that he had been replaced as Director General by a member of Qatar’s ruling family might signal a change in editorial policy. He said no, and I would like to believe him. But there is no doubt that several rulers in the Gulf were very angry about Al Jazeera’s initial reporting of the crackdown against demonstrators in Bahrain. And I fear that if the Arab Awakening does eventually sweep through the GCC states, Al Jazeera might be emasculated and then die.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: al-Jazeera, Arab Awakening, Arab Spring, Cairo, City University, Doha, Egypt, Gaddafi, Hosni Mubarak, James Cameron, Libya, Qatar, Tahrir Square, Wadah Khanfar | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 3rd August, 2011
Former President Hosni Mubarak was wheeled into Court today to face charges of corruption and of ordering the killing of protestors earlier this year. His trial is the greatest test so far for Egypt’s Revolution. For the families of those who suffered at the hands of his brutal security forces, this day is almost too good to be true, seeing the old dictator on a trolley bed in a cage, but whether he will be fit enough to endure the whole procedure is another matter. Since stepping down after mass demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and elsewhere, Mr Mubarak has spent most of his time in hospital in Sharm El-Sheikh. Conflicting reports about his exact state of health have emerged over the past five months, some claiming his ‘illnesses’ are a total sham. Either way, to put a former ruler on trial for alleged past misdeeds is something of a novelty in North Africa and I suspect Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi will be keeping a close eye on proceedings. Because so much of the media focus has shifted to Libya and Syria recently, it is all too easy for people in Europe to forget that Egypt’s Revolution is by no means complete. The willingness of the army to relinquish the hold on power that it now has as well as the outcome of November’s elections will both we worth watching.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 8th June, 2011
There’s been a tendency to label the momentous changes that have taken place in Egypt over the past five months as the Facebook Revolution, but as was stressed by the panelists at an excellent seminar hosted by ThomsonReuters at their Canary Wharf HQ this evening, although new media helped, the real victors were the Egyptian people, who overcame their fear of the Mubarak regime and its state security services and held out in Cairo’s Tahrir Square until the regime fell. Former Google rep Wael Ghonim, who was one of the Revolution’s stars, joined us all on video link from Dubai, where he is busy writing a book about the whole experience. Dr Sally Moore, a British Egyptian psychiatrist who was in the thick of things in January/February, reminded us how many women were involved in the popular uprising and emphasized how important it is that their voices are not lost. Srdja Popovic, Executive Director of the Centre for Applied Non-Violent Action and Strategies (CANVAS) brought an interesting Serbian perspective from someone who had been at the heart of the action that brought down Milosevic. He argued that the three essential components for any such exercise of People Power are unity, planning and non-violent discipline — all of which the Egyptian revolution had (though sadly not the Saffron Revolution in Burma, for example). The panelists were not worried about the fact that the Egyptian Revolution was leaderless, though now it is important that strong political figures emerge who can appeal to the electorate in September. Sally, for one, thought the elections ought to be postponed, as there is no way that the scores of new political parties, groups and coalitions can get their act together in time, especially as life as normal will shut down during August because of Ramadan. But the likelihood is that the elections will indeed take place as planned and it must not only be the Muslim Brotherhood that has the organisation to succeed.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Burma, Cairo, Canary Wharf, CANVAS, Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, People Power, Saffron Revolution, Sally Moore, Slobodan Milosevic, Srdja Popovic, Tahrir Square, Thomson Reuters Foundation, Wael Ghonim | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 15th May, 2011
Every year the Palestinian people mark 15 May — the anniversary of the 1948 founding of the State of Israel — as the Nakba or Catastrophe. This year, there were larger demonstrations than usual, not just in Gaza and the Occupied West Bank but also in the Golan Heights of Syria, bordering the Israeli-occupied zone, and along the border between Lebanon and Israel. At least 15 were reported killed in clashes and many scores more wounded. Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu says he has ordered troops to act with restraint, but nothing contradicts the fact that the IDS fired on unarmed protestors. Despite this tragic turn of events, however, there was also a mood of optimism in the Occupied Territories today, both because of the recent agreement between Hamas and Fatah to try to ovecome their differences and form a government of national unity, and because of the Arab Awakening that has been sweeping North Africa and the Middle East. Interestingly, in Cairo, thousands of people turned out to protest in commemmoration of the Nakba outside the Israeli Embassy. Late into the night clashes with security forces continued there. But there is little doubt that with the downfall of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt — Israel’s key Arab treaty pertner — is no longer such a friendly neighbour prepared to accept continuing Israeli oppression of the Palestinians.