Since protestors in Egypt inspired the world back in January and February, risking their lives — and sometimes losing their lives — in Tahrir Square and elsewhere in Egypt to topple the hated Western-backed dictator Hosni Mubarak, and to demand fundamental political change, I have not devoted as much time as I would have liked to following up on the Egyptian story.
I reported with great pleasure the extraordinary invasion of State Security buildings in March, when torture cells and shredded documents were discovered, as Mubarak’s torturers fled, and in June and August I reported how former Guantánamo prisoner Adel al-Gazzar, who had returned to Egypt from his temporary home in Slovakia, was, sadly, imprisoned on his return. I also reported the first day of the trial of Hosni Mubarak, which enabled me, for the first time, to note how Egypt’s revolution had been hijacked by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Mubarak’s former allies, who took over when he was toppled, but who have proven unwilling to manage a swift transition to democracy, and, along the way, have held thousands of unjust and largely arbitrary military trials — more, ironically, than took place under Mubarak.
In picking up on this story that I have sadly neglected, I am delighted to cross-post a call for international support from activists in Egypt (published on the website, No Military Trials for Civilians), who, as the Guardian explained last week, have “called for an international day of action to defend their country’s revolution, as global opposition mounts towards the military junta.” In their statement, “appealing for solidarity” from the worldwide Occupy movement that has followed the example of the Egyptians and “taken control of public squares in London, New York and hundreds of other cities,”the Egyptian activists point out that “their revolution is ‘under attack’ from army generals,” and that they too are fighting a 1 percent elite “intent on stifling democracy and promoting social injustice.”
Call-Out for Solidarity with Egypt: Defend the Revolution
A letter from Cairo to the Occupy/Decolonize movements & other solidarity movements
November 3, 2011
After three decades of living under a dictatorship, Egyptians started a revolution demanding bread, freedom and social justice. After a nearly utopian occupation of Tahrir Square lasting eighteen days, we rid ourselves of Mubarak and began the second, harder, task of removing his apparatuses of power. Mubarak is gone, but the military regime lives on. So the revolution continues — building pressure, taking to the streets and claiming the right to control our lives and livelihoods against systems of repression that abused us for years. But now, seemingly so soon after its beginnings, the revolution is under attack. We write this letter to tell you about what we are seeing, how we mean to stand against this crackdown, and to call for your solidarity with us.
The 25th and 28th of January, the 11th of February: you saw these days, lived these days with us on television. But we have battled through the 25th of February, the 9th of March, the 9th of April, the 15th of May, the 28th of June, the 23rd of July, the 1st of August, the 9th of September, the 9th of October. Again and again the army and the police have attacked us, beaten us, arrested us, killed us. And we have resisted, we have continued; some of these days we lost, others we won, but never without cost. Over a thousand gave their lives to remove Mubarak. Many more have joined them in death since. We go on so that their deaths will not be in vain. Names like Ali Maher (a 15- year old demonstrator killed by the army in Tahrir, 9th of April), Atef Yehia (shot in the head by security forces in a protest in solidarity with Palestine, 15th of May), Mina Danial (shot by the Army in a protest in front of Masepro, 9th of October). Mina Danial, in death, suffers the perverse indignity of being on the military prosecutor’s list of the accused.
Moreover, since the military junta took power, at least 12,000 of us have been tried by military courts, unable to call witnesses and with limited access to lawyers. Minors are serving in adult prisons, death sentences have been handed down, torture runs rampant. Women demonstrators have been subjected to sexual assault in the form of “virginity tests” by the Army.
On October 9th, the Army massacred 28 of us at Maspero; they ran us over with tanks and shot us down in the street while manipulating state media to try and incite sectarian violence. The story has been censored. The military is investigating itself. They are systematically targeting those of us who speak out. This Sunday, our comrade and blogger Alaa Abd El-Fattah was imprisoned on trumped-up charges. He spends another night in an unlit cell tonight.
All this from the military that supposedly will ensure a transition to democracy, that claimed to defend the revolution, and seemingly convinced many within Egypt and internationally that it was doing so. The official line has been one of ensuring “stability”, with empty assurances that the Army is only creating a proper environment for the upcoming elections. But even once a new parliament is elected, we will still live under a junta that holds legislative, executive, and judicial authority, with no guarantee that this will end. Those who challenge this scheme are harassed, arrested, and tortured; military trials of civilians are the primary tool of this repression. The prisons are full of casualties of this “transition.”
We now refuse to co-operate with military trials and prosecutions. We will not hand ourselves in, we will not submit ourselves to questioning. If they want us, they can take us from our homes and workplaces.
Nine months into our new military repression, we are still fighting for our revolution. We are marching, occupying, striking, shutting things down. And you, too, are marching, occupying, striking, shutting things down. We know from the outpouring of support we received in January that the world was watching us closely and even inspired by our revolution. We felt closer to you than ever before. And now, it’s your turn to inspire us as we watch the struggles of your movements. We marched to the US Embassy in Cairo to protest the violent eviction of the occupation in Oscar Grant Plaza in Oakland. Our strength is in our shared struggle. If they stifle our resistance, the 1% will win — in Cairo, New York, London, Rome — everywhere. But while the revolution lives our imaginations knows no bounds. We can still create a world worth living.
You can help us defend our revolution.
The G8, IMF and Gulf states are promising the regime loans of $35 billion. The US gives the Egyptian military $1.3 billion in aid every year. Governments the world over continue their long-term support and alliance with the military rulers of Egypt. The bullets they kill us with are made in America. The tear gas that burns from Oakland to Palestine is made in Wyoming. David Cameron’s first visit to post-revolutionary Egypt was to close a weapons deal. These are only a few examples. People’s lives, freedoms and futures must stop being trafficked for strategic assets. We must unite against governments who do not share their people’s interests.
We are calling on you to undertake solidarity actions to help us oppose this crackdown.
We are suggesting an International Day to Defend the Egyptian Revolution on Nov 12th under the slogan, “Defend the Egyptian Revolution — End Military Trials for Civilians.”
Events could include:
- Actions targeting Egyptian Embassies or Consulates demanding the release of civilians sentenced in military tribunals. If Alaa is released, demand the release of the thousands of others.
- Actions targeting your government to end support for the Egyptian junta.
- Demand the release of civilians sentenced to military tribunals. If Alaa is released, the thousands of others must follow.
- Project videos about the repression we face (military trials, Maspero massacre) and our continued resistance. Email us for links.
- Videoconferencing with activists in Egypt.
- Any creative way to show your support, and to show the Egyptian people that they have allies abroad.
If you’re organizing anything or wish to, email us. We would also love to see photos and videos from any events you organize.
The Campaign to End Military Trials of Civilians
The Free Alaa Campaign
Comrades from Cairo
The Guardian specifically noted that the announcement had come as Alaa Abd El-Fattah, described as “the jailed Egyptian revolutionary who has become a rallying figure for those opposed to the junta,” had “his appeal against detention refused by a military court,” so that, as a result, he and 30 other defendants groundlessly accused of “inciting violence against the military” will remain imprisoned until at least the end of this week. The Guardian also noted that the authorities “could then choose to extend their incarceration indefinitely.”
Last week, a secret letter written by Alaa Abd El-Fattah from inside his cell at Bab el-Khalq jail was published by the Guardian and the Egyptian newspaper al-Shorouk, “laying bare the growing chasm between the ruling generals and grassroots activists who believe that their revolution has been hijacked,” as the Guardian put it.
In the letter, El-Fattah, who was also imprisoned under President Mubarak in 2006, “directly accused the junta of being behind the recent bloodshed that left 27 dead at a downtown Cairo protest last month, and suggested that the revolution was being hijacked by the generals.”
“I never expected to repeat the experience of five years ago,” he wrote. “After a revolution that deposed the tyrant, I go back to his jails?” He also explained that he was being held in what he described as “a cockroach-infested 6ft x 12ft cell with eight other men,” who, in his words, are “poor, helpless, unjustly held — the guilty among them and the innocent.” He added, “I spent my first two days listening to stories of torture at the hands of a police force that insists on not being reformed; that takes out its defeat on the bodies of the poor and the helpless.”
Describing the case of Mina Daniel, “a Coptic protester who died during the 9 October demonstration but has since been accused, like Abd El-Fattah, of helping to instigate the violence,” in the Guardian‘s words, Abd El-Fattah wrote that the military “must be the first who murder a man and not only walk in his funeral but spit on his body and accuse it of a crime.”
As the Guardian also noted, “Attempting to communicate with the outside world can be exceptionally risky in Egyptian jails. Last week a prisoner at Cairo’s high-security Tora prison died after trying to smuggle a mobile phone SIM card into his cell; witnesses have said he was repeatedly tortured by prison guards who caused internal bleeding by inserting a large water hose into his mouth and anus.”
At the same time that Alaa Abd El-Fattah’s letter was published, the interim cabinet released a document containing draft constitutional principles that would “shield the army from parliamentary oversight, give generals a final say over major policies and allow the military to dominate the writing of a new constitution.”
The proposals attracted high-level criticism, with Presidential candidate and former UN nuclear energy chief Mohamed ElBaradei calling the document “distorted” and demanding its withdrawal. “There is a difference between a civilian democratic state that guarantees man’s basic rights and military guardianship,” he said.
In addition, although secular parties “had initially called for a set of ‘supra-constitutional’ principles to be written in an effort to dilute the influence of Islamist parties,” who were “expected to do well in the upcoming parliamentary elections and hence play a major role in the creation of a new constitution next year,” they had “since become alarmed at the military’s apparent attempts to cement its long-term position of power in the country,” and many were now “demanding the resignation of deputy prime minister Ali El-Selmi, who was responsible for releasing the contentious document.” The Guardian noted that the Muslim Brotherhood had “also come out against the draft constitutional principles,” saying they amounted to a “rape of the people’s will.”
Following the release of Alaa Abd El-Fattah’s letter, and the criticism of the draft constitutional principles, the Guardian reported a small victory for the military’s many critics. Although Abd El-Fattah was still held, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) announced “plans to free 334 people locked away since the fall of Hosni Mubarak in February.” Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the head of the Supreme Council, “gave no details of who would be pardoned or when, but said the move was to support ‘continued communication with the great Egyptian people and the youth of the revolution.’”
However, Alaa Abd El-Fattah’s wife, Manal Hassan, told the Guardian that this was “a drop in the ocean,” given the estimated 12,000 people convicted by military courts. “We’re happy for those that will be released but they should never have been there from the beginning, and it does nothing to change the unjust system that put them in jail in the first place,” she said.
In addition, his cousin, Omar Robert Hamilton, a film-maker, said, “Alaa isn’t in jail to bargain for specific prisoner releases. He isn’t in jail to bargain at all. He’s in jail because he won’t submit himself to this illegal and unjust tribunal system. So that system has to end, and oversight of the law be returned to the civilian judiciary.”
Manal Hassan, who is “heavily pregnant with the couple’s first child,” also told the Guardian that she had visited her husband last Wednesday and said that, “despite terrible conditions,” he remained strong. “He is aware of the huge solidarity campaign that has sprung up to support him, and that has enabled him to stay optimistic and cheerful,” she said. “We had a lot of hope for change in Egypt after Mubarak fell, but [the Supreme Council] is destroying and reversing those hopes day by day.”
The Guardian also noted that several thousand Egyptians marched last week against Abd El-Fattah’s incarceration, which has been “condemned by Amnesty International and labelled ‘a major setback for the Egyptian revolution’ by presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh.”
In response the the Egyptian activists’ call for international support, the Guardian spoke to spokespeople from Occupy Wall Street and Occupy London. Sandy Nurse of Occupy Wall Street said that she believed that Occupy Wall Street “would be in solidarity with the continued struggle of the Egyptian protesters,” and Anup Desai, a press spokesman for OWS, and a professor of philosophy at City University of New York, said, “The effort put out by the entire country in Egypt gave us motivation. Egypt has won the first step. I was not aware what was happening so I am grateful for this opportunity to learn and I thank the Egyptian activists. What is happening with the military and the military courts is 100% wrong and we need to share this and tell people about it.” Desai also expressed solidarity with the activists, saying, “We need to keep coming together.”
In London, Naomi Colvin of Occupy London said, “All decisions are made through a general assembly but I’m sure we will strongly support the call from our friends in the Middle East to stand in solidarity with them through an international day of action.” Crucially, she added, “Egyptians provided us with an example of courage that has inspired not only our own protest but many others around the world, and we owe it to them to support their ongoing struggle in any way we can.”
The Guardian also noted that links “between political upheavals in the Arab world and the campaign against financial injustice in the west” had “strengthened in recent weeks, with demonstrators on both sides claiming inspiration from the others’ struggle,” with protesters in Oakland waving an Egyptian flag during their general strike, “prompting some Cairo-based bloggers to reflect on the similarities between the police tactics used in the US and Egypt,” and London activists at St Paul’s Cathedral holding “a live video link with anti-regime protesters in Syria.”
These bonds need to be maintained, not just because, as Naomi Colvin explained, “Egyptians provided us with an example of courage,” but also because it is disgraceful that the military has done so much to hijack the people’s revolution, and that it takes, yet again, exceptional bravery, like that of Alaa Abd El-Fattah, to expose what is happening.
Note: Alaa Abd El-Fattah’s mother, Laila Soueif, also a long-term activist for change, as part of the 9 March movement, which advocates academic freedom, has now embarked on a hunger strike to raise awareness of her son’s plight, and today it was reported that six other protestors had joined the strike in solidarity, including political activist Islam Elsayed El-Eissawi; Mohamed Hashem, director of the Merit Publishing House; and Taqadom El-Khatib, a professor at Mansoura University and one of Soueif’s colleagues in the 9 March movement.