Aleppo: The end of Syria’s revolution?

It is hard to believe that a child’s dare, made on the playground, would blaze a trail for the country to be torn apart, with repercussions that would shake the entire world.

As Tunisians revolted and Egyptians protested back in 2011, hardly anyone expected anything to come out from Syria, with a president that was held in good favour by a significant portion of his people, and an efficient secret police known throughout the entire region.

But things changed after a solitary elderly man, Ghassan Najjar, attempting to heed the calls of the Arab Spring, was swiftly taken away in the middle of the night.

It was in Daraa, a small farming town in Syria’s southern border with Jordan, two weeks later, where young schoolchildren echoed the chants of Cairo and Tunis, picking up graffiti cans and spraying the familiar slogan, “the people want the removal of the regime”.  The response was swift.

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Between uncertain life and certain death

“It’s a slow death.” With these words, Soliman Bakar and his wife summarise the economic situation in Egypt, where reports are increasingly showing just how dire things have become, with many unable to afford basic food and are struggling to make ends meet.

Bakar, a father of three, is a government employee. After his shift ends, he works as a taxi driver throughout the night and into the early hours of the morning. “I’m juggling two jobs, and my wife is also working, but even with the three salaries coming in, we’re barely making it.”

“The problems seem never ending, no matter where you turn you’re faced with more and more difficulties. The price of gas, electricity, water, petrol, everything went up suddenly. Now that food went up, the pound took a hit too. The subsidised milk we used to get for our children is no longer available. Medicine has quadrupled in price – that’s if you can even find it. Suddenly pharmacists are telling us there’s a severe shortage in thousands of medicines, including medication for heart and liver failure. We’re dying.”

With his youngest in elementary school, Bakar’s greatest fear is crushing his daughter’s innocent adoration. She still believes in her father – the hero. “I feel helpless,” Solimon says despondently. “There’s nothing a father wishes for more than to be able to provide the very best for his children. But how? How can I face my children?”

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For the french version, read here

‘I still cry every time I hear her name’: Rabaa families struggle to move on

Three years ago to the day, 26-year-old journalist Habiba Abd al-Aziz picked up her camera and went to cover a sit-in outside the Rabaa mosque in east Cairo that had been protesting the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi.

For weeks, tens of thousands of people had gathered there peacefully to voice their opposition to the coup that had taken place the month before, but on that fateful day the security services stepped in to disperse the crowds.

Aziz, a journalist for Xpress, the sister publication of the UAE-based Gulf News, had flown back to Egypt two weeks earlier to film the protest and as the police began to fire at the demonstrators, she took out her phone and started texting her mother to let her know what was going on. It would be the last time that her family would hear from her.

As Aziz tried to get to the front to see what was happening, a sniper put a bullet right in her heart. She fell where she stood, her video camera capturing the last moments of her life.

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Excelling, despite all odds

For Amira Eraqi, an Egyptian high school student from the city of Mansoura, sitting her exams and waiting for the results was – as it is for millions of students worldwide – a time of intense emotions.

But for her and her family, there was one major difference that added a sad note to the mix of feelings: her father has been a political prisoner in Egypt for the past two years. This meant that the sigh of relief and jubilation at her results was mixed with bittersweet feelings over her father’s incarceration.

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Welcome to ‘the kids’ Guantanamo’ of Egypt

“Do you know what it’s like to be one of the reasons someone is behind bars?”

With those words, an Egyptian lawyer greets me as he tells me about his latest case. Mohamed Abdelsayed, a 14-year-old boy, was charged with protesting and the possession of explosives after a taxi driver drove him to a police station and turned him in on suspicion of protesting. He remained detained for a month, and was released while his case was transferred to court. Mohamed, under no illusion regarding the legal system, was wary of attending the hearing, but was convinced by the lawyer otherwise, only to find himself sentenced to five years.

Such is the reality of Egypt’s youth today. Whilst Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi maintains that the youth are Egypt’s hope and future, actions speak otherwise and a lot more loudly at that. As Sisi begins to mark his two-year anniversary since officially becoming president, Egypt’s list of achievements is rich with empty promises and broken spirits.

Read the rest here: http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/worse-guantanamo-children-egyptian-prisons-1313079236

French: http://www.middleeasteye.net/opinions/les-enfants-sont-en-danger-bienvenue-au-guantanamo-pour-enfants-d-gypte-1179525481

Forgotten in Egypt’s cells

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Cold.

I shiver in my threadbare clothes, rub my frozen hands together. I try to remember the pain I felt, but the cold is all I feel now. It seeps into my bones and numbs my body.

I close my eyes to shut out the dreariness, the grey walls that haven’t seen light for so long they seem to wilt. An icy gust drafts from a crack, slicing into me, biting.

Forgotten.

I don’t know how long I’ve been kept here. I don’t know how long I will remain here. Day and night seem to merge into one seemingly endless stretch of time here, with only the icy ground freezing and thawing giving any indication to the days passing.

Dark.

I know that warmth will only come when I close my eyes. Perhaps this time when I close my eyes, when I block the grey walls, perhaps I will feel the sun rays.

I close my eyes and smile to myself…

The sun is here.

For those forgotten in Egypt’s cells…the ones we don’t know about 

I’m Sorry

Menna,

Growing up, there was nothing I enjoyed more than listening to my friend’s mum narrating details of her own childhood in Cairo. She would tell me of the fig and apple trees casting their cool shade over her parents’ yard and the basil and mint leaves emanating a refreshing aroma. She would tell me of the mosques—their vastness and tranquility. I remember the nostalgia in her voice as she’d remember past holiday prayers, describing the crowds and happiness.  I remember hearing about women in niqab riding roller coasters at liberty and multahiya men playing soccer without being questioned. People spoke and acted as they pleased, she’d say. No one was afraid of being shot at or imprisoned simply for believing in a better Egypt.

 I smile as I recall these narratives, but as I think about the current situation of Egypt and the past months, I cannot help but cry, Menna.

 I’m sorry, Menna.

 I’m sorry that you will tell your children of the suffocation of your cell and the insects infesting it, instead of the coolness of your parents’ yard.

 I’m sorry that you will tell your children of the blood that spilled on the footsteps of Fatih mosque. I’m sorry that you will tell them of the innocent men, women, and children shot dead while praying in and beside the Rabaa mosque. I’m sorry that you won’t be able to tell your children that our mosques were a safe haven. I’m sorry, Menna. I’m sorry.

 I’m sorry you won’t be able to describe a crowded jummu’ah prayer and will instead talk of the paranoia paralyzing the country and keeping everyone home and far from anything that may seem “Islamist”—even something so simple as a prayer.

 I’m sorry you will tell your children that women in niqab were humiliated and multahiya men were beaten and arrested.

 I’m sorry you will tell your children that freedom and justice were concepts so alien in Egypt. I’m sorry that you will tell them of the blackness throttling Egypt and squeezing the life out of it. I’m sorry—for you will tell them of the young adults who dreamed and worked for an Egypt we deserved. You will tell them of those whose hands were shot off simply for holding up four fingers.

 I’m sorry Menna. I’m sorry that you will tell your children of a deeply polarized nation and of a people brainwashed and blind. I’m sorry, Menna.   

 I’m sorry dear family and friends of Menna.

 I’m sorry for you, Menna. I’m sorry for me, and for those reading this, and for all of Egypt.

 I’m sorry for the past, present, and future of Egypt.

 I’m sorry, Egypt, I’m sorry.

And most of all, I’m sorry for those who’ve either opposed or stood silent during the peaceful Nahda protests and Rabaa sit-in. I’m sorry for those who witnessed the reckless and indiscriminate torture, kidnapping, murder, and imprisonment and justified them or were mute about them. I am most sorry for you; for you had the opportunity to stand on the right side of history but chose not to.

 I’m sorry.

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David Cameron’s Gulf Relationship – working together to promote democracy

With the continuous turmoil occurring in the Middle East following the Arab Spring, notably, Egypt, the world at large has been at loss on how to handle the finer intricacies. Of course, accepting that Egyptians might actually – legitimately – want an Islamist party ruling them does seem a bit of a hard pill to swallow.

After much thought and deep deliberation, the British Prime Minister David Cameron managed to complete his statement which he has been studiously working on since early June.

“A number of inconclusive events have occurred in Egypt with the military trying desperately to return Egypt to the path of democracy, however not without facing a few hiccups on the way. We understand that whilst the traditional approach was not really taken in Egypt in the crackdown against freedoms and human life, however we appreciate that it must be hard work controlling such quantities and we are committed in helping and supporting Egypt in its progress.

We are horrified to learn of the very violent massacre that occurred, resulting in the death of three tourists and have ordered an immediate investigation on the Muslim Brotherhood, following a viewing of the Egyptian State TV where it was announced that they hold them fully responsible following  their press release condemning all violence. The speed of the press release is questionable, as is the availability of it being only in two languages.”

Upon being questioned on the basis of his studies and the conclusions he had drawn, Mr. Cameron explained that he had not been without resources. “I’m happy to announce that Downing Street received a thorough and exhaustive email from Saudi Arabia detailing the correct steps necessary for a country proud of its democratic principles”

The Prime Minister was so impressed with the notes taken by Saudi Arabia, that he has asked them to help compile the report on the Muslim Brotherhood to help better understand their history.

“We want the British public to rest assured that we are doing all that is possible to ensure we have all avenues covered. We’ve even managed to get Tony Blair’s foreign advisor who was very close to the former president Hosni Mubarak. We understand that no one will quite champion the values of democracy quite like a friend of the old regime who felt its effect first hand.”

Ukraine and Egypt: A Story of Parallels?

The coverage of Ukraine would have us believe that the nation is united in moving closer towards the European Union and a corrupt political leadership is intent on dragging it down to its Soviet past, however is it really as simple as that? It has been compared to Egypt, a country where its nation took to the streets to remove their corrupt regime – and succeeded, or failed, depending on the narrative.

Similarities between Ukraine and Egypt – and at times differences – are already being drawn, however most analysts seem to be neglecting vital geopolitics and other dynamics.

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The image parallels between Kyiv and Rabaa are shockingly similar – a stunning symmetry that resonated in many minds, how the brutal police/regime in power reacted in a deplorable manner to peaceful protesters.

However, the disparity between the two reactions also didn’t go amiss – read @fattysaid’s storify post here the day of the dispersal on how reactions differed and how suddenly, crimes against Egyptian protesters could be justified because of “differences” in each political story.

Ukraine, a country entering its 23rd birthday of independence, which didn’t exist as a separate entity before 1991, the collapse of the Soviet Union, is still forging its way ahead and attributing a coherent national font to it and believing a united political aspiration exists is oversimplification.

Political identities that were created under imperialism are still very much in existence despite the borders disappearing. Depending on where you move geographically, you are likely to get a differing political thought as Eastern Ukraine fell under Russian imperial rule much earlier than its western counterpart which spent decades under control of European powers.

In November, President Victor Yanukovych (hailing from Eastern Ukraine) pulled out of an EU treaty in a sudden U-turn that signified the Russian influence was still very much alive in Ukrainian politics. The country can thus be seen to be majorly divided between those wishing to build closer relations with Europe, and those favouring a return to Russian influence, as some academics have called it, the Eastern-Western divide. “If you ask people in the west, they will say ‘We are Ukrainian.’ In the east, they are more likely to say, ‘We are Soviet,’ says Andy Hunder, the director of London’s Ukrainian Institute.

Protesters tell us that what started as a pro-EU movement however seemed to quickly become much larger than that, morphing into a fight against corruption, a movement to stand against a government believed to only represent the interests of the rich and wishing to remain friendly with Putin – a government ignoring its people.

Critics however will tell you that what we have in Ukraine, is a clear divide in ideologies, citing how those leading the protests are the political opposition who were in power a few years ago and are now attempting to remove the elected – corrupt but elected – government to bring themselves back into power.

It’s important to note that many polls in the past have indicated that despite the majority of Russian speakers in Eastern Ukraine, they have repeatedly expressed loyalty to Ukraine and not to Russia, and so that analogy isn’t completely accurate either.

Anti protest laws were introduced in Ukraine in an attempt to curb dissenting voices, if permission was not taken protesters could find themselves sentenced to ten years in prison. Hefty fines were also given to those wearing masks at demonstrations and the government went as far as imposing a driving ban for over five car convoys (goodbye car protests!).

Ukraine was not alone in the passing of draconian decrees. Egypt faced a similar backlash with protests being banned, gatherings exceeding a certain number requiring a permit and the arrest of a shocking twenty thousand figure.

Both countries have had deplorable acts of violence acted out on protesters, an imagery not lost on any. On August 14th, Egypt’s security forces stormed a sit in and in an attempt to quash the voices of opposition, led the worst massacre Egypt witnessed in its modern history. Bodies were torched and tents set alight. The mosque and make shift hospital that many took refuge in was also torched and burnt down. Bulldozers closed off exits and trampled over the dead as military forces fired tear gas and live ammunition into the crowd, not sparing young or old.

Imagine the cries of a child seeing his mother shot in front of him. Think of the women’s panic as exits were closed and armed men closed in on them. Feel the anguish of a father who took his wounded son to the hospital only for the army to set his body alight.

Two thousand and six hundred died that day. Two thousand and six hundred innocent lives taken for daring to question a military dictatorship.

Months later, on the 20th of February, we see the same images coming out of Kyiv. Bodies lined up, smoke curling above the buildings and tear gas so thick you couldn’t see in front of you.

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But that is where similarities end. Whilst Ukrainian politics are being debated, the simple matter of Egypt, a people against Army rule, a corrupt military dictatorship that has been controlling them for over sixty years, has now been turned into a false justification, with democrats, liberals and others all finding a way to suddenly justify military dictatorships.

The political nuances of Ukraine were discarded and protesters hailed as rebelling against corruption, but in Egypt, political nuances were highlighted and at times created to ignore the atrocities. Egypt has moved from a story of one people struggling against a corrupt authoritarian military dictatorship to one where hundreds of excuses can be made – because somehow, some people are less deserving than others.

There are a few constants in life. State violence against peaceful protesters being deplorable is one. 

Note: The author is not an expert in Ukrainian history or politics and welcomes all comments. 

Morsi collaborated with dead Hamas officials to plan the January 25 Revolution

Today, ousted President Dr. Mohammad Morsi, stood trial for another risible charge: Breaking out of prison and conspiring with international Islamist organisations to orchestrate prison break outs.

What’s interesting is how majority of the news outlets reported the sham of a trial as though it held any weight, with no mention of the actual evidence brought against Dr. Mohammad Morsi.

Hamas, a militant Palestinian organisation that secured Gaza from Israel, was accused of plotting for January 25th – the revolution that most Egyptians take pride in. Official Hamas figures, Hasan Salama, Hosam Sanei and Abu Senema were listed as having collaborated with Morsi in orchestrating the break out.

The problem here is that both Hosam Sanei and Abu Senema are dead – died 2008 and 2009 respectively, and Hasan Salama has been imprisoned in the Israeli prisons since 1996 with 48 life sentences. Yet somehow, all three of these Hamas officials managed to work from beyond the graves and behind bars, to mysteriously collaborate with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood imprisoned in Mubarak’s jails.

Another organisation Morsi and Hamas are accused of working with, is the Shiite Lebanon based Hezballah group. Now, whilst that may seem reasonable to the script writers in Egypt drafting the next episodes of the mockery taking place, anyone with slight understanding of the MENA region would see how completely ludicrous such a suggested collaboration would be. The Sunni based Muslim Brotherhood is at odds with the afore mentioned Lebanese group – these differences highlighted more strongly since the Syrian uprising started and the Shiite based group began sending in solders in the attempt to stifle the popular uprising.

Of course, that’s not to mention the difficulty of actually planning anything when you’re in prison, let alone collaborating with neighbouring countries and orchestrating the break out of various prisons across a country as large as Egypt.

Yet somehow, when Egyptians watched the news today, they didn’t blink an eye at the thought of Hamas officials travelling the 60 Km (another inaccurate figure quoted by the courts), entering Egypt and releasing prisoners from jail. They didn’t wonder where the border security was that day. They didn’t ask themselves why it took the Judiciary three years to remember this about Morsi. They didn’t even question when they were told that their prided revolution was a farce from beginning.

No, they swallowed it sweetly and shook their head aghast at how they allowed themselves to be hoodwinked by their Palestinian neighbours, muttering to themselves, “of course! Palestine knew about #Jan25 before it happened!”

Yes. They had facebook too.