Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Tahrir Square’

Egypt: The Elusive Arab Spring

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 26th August, 2014

Wafik MoustafaWafik Moustafa bookDuring the first few weeks of 2011 I was glued to Al Jazeera’s English-language TV channel as the revolution in Egypt unfurled and President Hosni Mubarak eventually stood down from power. But this proved to be a hollow victory for the predominantly liberal and often secular young demonstrators who had been so visible in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Elections led to Mohammed Morsi of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood becoming the new president, but the new government’s swift moves to islamise the state led to renewed mass protests and Morsi’s ousting in a coup. Now Egypt is led by Field Marshal Abdel Fatah El Sisi, who many critics see as a sort of Mubarak Mark II. In fact, the repression against dissent is even worse now than it was in Mubarak’s final years. But all this was predictable, of so argues the British-Egyptian doctor Wafik Moustafa, in his thought-provoking book Egypt: The Elusive Arab Spring (Gilgmesh, £24.95). Dr Moustafa is unique in having stood for both the Egyptian presidency (against Mubarak) and as a prospective UK MP (for Bootle) — both lost causes, as Mubarak made sure for 30 years that the veneer of democracy eventually applied to quieten criticism from Washington would not threaten him through the ballot box, and Dr Moustafa is a Conservative who had little chance of ousting Labour in Britain’s industrial north west. His book is a very personal take on events, both during the three years of the so-called Arab Spring and in his recounting of Egypt’s modern history, from a liberal, cosmopolitan perspective. He obviously thinks Egypt is the poorer for losing former IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei from frontline politics (not a view particularly widely shared among ordinary Egyptians) and he is (probably justifiably) harsh on the record of the late Colonel Nasser, whose standing in the Egyptian street nonetheless seems to be rising again, with a little help from El Sisi. The author ranges wider than the Egypt of the title, looking at events across the whole Arab world, as well as specific issues such as the media. The order of chapters is at times a little strange — an account of the Egyptian monarchy coming towards the end of the book, for example — but the late alterations and additions made necessary by political developments in 2013 are reasonably well integrated into the whole, and all in all this is a stimulating read, which will be particularly appreciated by those who are not already Middle East experts and want an accessible and literate overview of Egypt’s situation and the multitude of challenges facing the country’s future.

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Egypt 25 January: The Revolution Must Go On

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 25th January, 2014

25 JanuaryThis 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

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Tahrir: A Critical Explosion

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.

Link: http://gilgamesh-publishing.co.uk

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The Mubarak Dilemma

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.

 

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Mohamed Bouazizi’s Legacy

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.

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Wadah Khanfar, Al Jazeera and the Arab Spring

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.

 

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Egypt’s Tahrir Revolution and the New Media

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.

Link: www.Trust.org

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