The United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia became very uneasy when the Yemenese or Yemenite movement of the Houthi or Ansarallah (meaning the supporters of God in Arabic) gained control of Yemen’s capital, Sanaa/Sana, in September 2014. The US-supported Yemenite President Abd-Rabbuh Manṣour Al-Hadi was humiliatingly forced to share power with the Houthis and the coalition of northern Yemenese tribes that had helped them enter Sana. Al-Hadi declared that negotiations for a Yemeni national unity government would take place and his allies the US and Saudi Arabia tried to use a new national dialogue and mediated talks to co-opt and pacify the Houthis.
The truth has been turned on its head about the war in Yemen. The war and ousting of President Abd-Rabbuh Manṣour Al-Hadi in Yemen are not the results of «Houthi coup» in Yemen. It is the opposite. Al-Hadi was ousted, because with Saudi and US support he tried to backtrack on the power sharing agreements he had made and return Yemen to authoritarian rule. The ousting of President Al-Hadi by the Houthis and their political allies was an unexpected reaction to the takeover Al-Hadi was planning with Washington and the House of Saudi.
The Houthis and their allies represent a diverse cross-section of Yemeni society and the majority of Yemenites. The Houthi movement’s domestic alliance against Al-Hadi includes Shiite Muslims and Sunni Muslims alike. The US and House of Saud never thought that the Houthis would assert themselves by removing Al-Hadi from power, but this reaction had been a decade in the making. With the House of Saud, Al-Hadi had been involved in the persecution of the Houthis and the manipulation of tribal politics in Yemen even before he became president. When he became Yemeni president he dragged his feet and was working against the implement the arrangements that had been arranged through consensus and negotiations in Yemen’s National Dialogue, which convened after Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced to hand over his powers in 2011.
Coup or Counter-Coup: What Happened in Yemen?
At first, when they took over Sana in late-2014, the Houthis rejected Al-Hadi’s proposals and his new offers for a formal power sharing agreement, calling him a morally bankrupt figure that had actually been reneging on previous promises of sharing political power. At that point, President Al-Hadi’s pandering to Washington and the House of Saud had made him deeply unpopular in Yemen with the majority of the population. Two months later, on November 8, President Al-Hadi’s own party, the Yemenite General People’s Congress, would eject Al-Hadi as its leader too.
The Houthis eventually detained President Al-Hadi and seized the presidential palace and other Yemeni government buildings on January 20. With popular support, a little over two weeks later, the Houthis formally formed a Yemeni transitional government on February 6. Al-Hadi was forced to resign. The Houthis declared that Al-Hadi, the US, and Saudi Arabia were planning on devastating Yemen on February 26.
Al-Hadi’s resignation was a setback for US foreign policy. It resulted in a military and operational retreat for the CIA and the Pentagon, which were forced to remove US military personnel and intelligence operatives from Yemen. The Los Angeles Times reported on March 25, citing US officials, that the Houthis had got their hands on numerous secret documents when they seized the Yemeni National Security Bureau, which was working closely with the CIA, that compromised Washington’s operations in Yemen.
Al-Hadi fled the Yemeni capital Sana to Aden on February 21 and declared it the temporary capital of Yemen on March 7. The US, France, Turkey, and their Western European allies closed their embassies. Soon afterwards, in what was probably a coordinated move with the US, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates all relocated the embassies to Aden from Sana. Al-Hadi rescinded his letter of resignation as president and declared that he was forming a government-in-exile.
The Houthis and their political allies refused to fall into line with the demands of the US and Saudi Arabia, which were being articulated through Al-Hadi in Aden and by an increasingly hysteric Riyadh. As a result, Al-Hadi’s foreign minister, Riyadh Yaseen, called for Saudi Arabia and the Arab petro-sheikdoms to militarily intervene to prevent the Houthis from getting control of Yemen’s airspace on March 23. Yaseen told the Saudi mouthpiece Al-Sharg Al-Awsa that a bombing campaign was needed and that a no-fly zone had to be imposed over Yemen.
The Houthis realized that a military struggle was going to begin. This is why the Houthis and their allies in the Yemenite military rushed to control as many Yemeni military airfields and airbases, such as Al-Anad, as quickly as possible. They rushed to neutralize Al-Hadi and entered Aden on March 25.
By the time the Houthis and their allies entered Aden, Al-Hadi had fled the Yemeni port city. Al-Hadi would resurface in Saudi Arabia when the House of Saud started attacking Yemen on March 26. From Saudi Arabia, Abd-Rabbuh Manṣour Al-Hadi would then fly to Egypt for a meeting of the Arab League to legitimize the war on Yemen.
Yemen and the Changing Strategic Equation in the Middle East
The Houthi takeover of Sana took place in the same timeframe as a series of success or regional victories for Iran, Hezbollah, Syria and the Resistance Bloc that they and other local actors form collectively. In Syria, the Syrian government managed to entrench its position while in Iraq the ISIL/ISIS/Daesh movement was being pushed back by Iraq with the noticeable help of Iran and local Iraqi militias allied to Tehran.
The strategic equation in the Middle East began to shift as it became clear that Iran was becoming central to its security architecture and stability. The House of Saud and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began to whimper and complain that Iran was in control of four regional capitals—Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad, and Sana – and that something had to be done to stop Iranian expansion. As a result of the new strategic equation, the Israelis and the House of Saud became perfectly strategically aligned with the objective of neutralizing Iran and its regional allies. «When the Israelis and Arabs are on the same page, people should pay attention», Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer told Fox News about the alignment of Israel and Saudi Arabia on March 5.
The Israeli and Saudi fear mongering has not worked. According to Gallup poll, only 9% of US citizens viewed Iran as the greatest enemy of the US at the time that Netanyahu arrived in Washington to speak against a deal between the US and Iran.
The Geo-Strategic Objectives of the US and Saudis Behind the War in Yemen
While the House of Saudi has long considered Yemen a subordinate province of some sort and as a part of Riyadh’s sphere of influence, the US wants to make sure that it could control the Bab Al-Mandeb, the Gulf of Aden, and the Socotra Islands. The Bab Al-Mandeb it is an important strategic chokepoint for international maritime trade and energy shipments that connects the Persian Gulf via the Indian Ocean with the Mediterranean Sea via the Red Sea. It is just as important as the Suez Canal for the maritime shipping lanes and trade between Africa, Asia, and Europe.
Israel was also concerned, because control of Yemen could cut off Israel’s access to the Indian Ocean via the Red Sea and prevent its submarines from easily deploying to the Persian Gulf to threaten Iran. This is why control of Yemen was actually one of Netanyahu’s talking points on Capitol Hill when he spoke to the US Congress about Iran on March 3 in what the New York Times of all publications billed as «Mr. Netanyahu’s Unconvincing Speech to Congress» on March 4.
Saudi Arabia was visibly afraid that Yemen could become formally aligned to Iran and that the events there could result in new rebellions in the Arabian Peninsula against the House of Saud. The US was just as much concerned about this too, but was also thinking in terms of global rivalries. Preventing Iran, Russia, or China from having a strategic foothold in Yemen, as a means of preventing other powers from overlooking the Gulf of Aden and positioning themselves at the Bab Al-Mandeb, was a major US concern.
Added to the geopolitical importance of Yemen in overseeing strategic maritime corridors is its military’s missile arsenal. Yemen’s missiles could hit any ships in the Gulf of Aden or Bab Al-Mandeb. In this regard, the Saudi attack on Yemen’s strategic missile depots serves both US and Israeli interests. The aim is not only to prevent them from being used to retaliate against exertions of Saudi military force, but to also prevent them from being available to a Yemeni government aligned to either Iran, Russia, or China.
In a public position that totally contradicts Riyadh’s Syria policy, the Saudis threatened to take military action if the Houthis and their political allies did not negotiate with Al-Hadi. As a result of the Saudi threats, protests erupted across Yemen against the House of Saud on March 25. Thus, the wheels were set in motion for another Middle Eastern war as the US, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, Qatar, and Kuwait began to prepare to reinstall Al-Hadi.
The Saudi March to War in Yemen and a New Front against Iran
For all the talk about Saudi Arabia as a regional power, it is too weak to confront Iran alone. The House of Saud’s strategy has been to erect or reinforce a regional alliance system for a drawn confrontation with Iran and the Resistance Bloc. In this regard Saudi Arabia needs Egypt, Turkey, and Pakistan —a misnamed so-called «Sunni» alliance or axis — to help it confront Iran and its regional allies.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the crown prince of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and deputy supreme commander of the UAE’s military, would visit Morocco to talk about a collective military response to Yemen by the Arab petro-sheikhdoms, Morocco, Jordan, and Egypt on March 17. On March 21, Mohammed bin Zayed met Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud to discuss a military response to Yemen. This was while Al-Hadi was calling for Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to help him by militarily intervening in Yemen. The meetings were followed by talk about a new regional security pact for the Arab petro-sheikdoms.
Out of the GCC’s five members, the Sultanate of Oman stayed away. Oman refused to join the war on Yemen. Muscat has friendly relations with Tehran. Moreover, the Omanis are weary of the Saudi and GCC project to use sectarianism to ignite confrontation with Iran and its allies. The majority of Omanis are neither Sunni Muslims nor Shiite Muslims; they are Ibadi Muslims, and they fear the fanning of sectarian sedition by the House of Saud and the other Arab petro-sheikdoms.
Saudi propagandists went into over drive falsely claiming that the war was a response to Iranian encroachment on the borders of Saudi Arabia. Turkey would announce its support for the war in Yemen. On the day the war was launched, Turkey’s Erdogan claimed that Iran was trying to dominate the region and that Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the GCC were getting annoyed.
During these events, Egypt’s Sisi stated that the security of Cairo and the security of Saudi Arabia and the Arab petro-sheikhdoms are one. In fact, Egypt said that it would not get involved in a war in Yemen on March 25, but the next day Cairo joined Saudi Arabia in Riyadh’s attack on Yemen by sending its jets and ships to Yemen.
In the same vein, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif released a statement on March 26 that any threat to Saudi Arabia would «evoke a strong response» from Pakistan. The message was tacitly directed towards Iran.
The US and Israeli Roles in the War in Yemen
On March 27, it was announced in Yemen that Israel was helping Saudi Arabia attack the Arab country. «This is the first time that the Zionists [Israelis] are conducting a joint operation in collaborations with Arabs,» Hassan Zayd, the head of Yemen’s Al-Haq Party, wrote on the internet to point out the convergence of interests between Saudi Arabia and Israel. The Israeli-Saudi alliance over Yemen, however, is not new. The Israelis helped the House of Saud during the North Yemen Civil War that started in 1962 by providing Saudi Arabia with weapons to help the royalists against the republicans in North Yemen.
The US is also involved and leading from behind or a distance. While it works to strike a deal with Iran, it also wants to maintain an alliance against Tehran using the Saudis. The Pentagon would provide what it called «intelligence and logistical support» to the House of Saud. Make no mistakes about it: the war on Yemen is also Washington’s war. The GCC has been unleashed on Yemen by the US.
There has long been talk about the formation of a pan-Arab military force, but proposals for creating it were renewed on March 9 by the rubberstamp Arab League. The proposals for a united Arab military serve US, Israeli, and Saudi interests. Talk about a pan-Arab military has been motivated by their preparations to attack Yemen to return Al-Hadi and to regionally confront Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and the Resistance Bloc.
(To be continued)
Moscow has slammed Washington for taking “no practical steps” to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) – despite countless promises to do so – and consequently preventing the important international treaty from going into force.
“The main load of responsibility that the CTBT has not entered into force so far lies on the eight remaining countries from the so-called ‘list of 44′ whose ratification documents are needed to launch the treaty,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The ministry stressed that “first of all, this refers to the US, a country that positions itself as a leader in the sphere of strengthening the regime of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.”
“Unfortunately, despite the repeated statements on the plans to ratify the Treaty, the US has yet taken no practical steps in this direction,” the statement said.
Moscow also praised Angola for ratifying the CTBT on March 20. The African nation was the 164th country to confirm the treaty.
“Such a decision of Luanda (Angola’s capital) certainly brings the CTBT closer to a universal status and contributes to its turning into a valid international-legal tool,” the ministry said.
The statement stressed that Russia’s “continuous commitment to the CTBT and the readiness to secure its speedy entry into legal force.”
“We once again call on all the states that have not yet signed or not ratified the Treaty to do it without delay or preconditions,” it said.
The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty is a multilateral agreement banning all nuclear explosions in all environments, for military or civilian purposes.
The CTBT was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in September 1996. However, nearly two decades later, it has not entered into force due to non-ratification by eight countries.
The US, China, Egypt, Iran, Israel have signed the deal, but not ratified it. North Korea and Pakistan have yet to sign the treaty.
The No to Military Trials for Civilians campaign said on Monday that 3,000 civilians were tried in military courts in the last five months, since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi passed new legislation treating certain state facilities as military institutions.
The findings formed part of the campaign’s fourth annual conference, which included testimonies from those who have been through military trials and their families.
Campaign member Sara al-Sherif says this constitutes a “dramatic” increase in an already endemic practice, presenting a greater challenge for the campaign, as public outrage has been more recently directed at harsh rulings by civilian courts.
She says people claim, “civilian judiciaries issue death penalties and life sentences without restriction, in contrast to verdicts by military judiciaries that are swift and will never be worse than what is already practiced in civilian courts,” but maintains this is not accurate, given the nature of military courts and the verdicts they have issued.
Lawyer Ahmed Heshmat raises concerns over the independence of military courts in the first place. “The law that enabled military courts to try civilians stipulated that this judiciary is independent, but it is not independent at all. Military judges are employees of the Defense Ministry, and as such they have to adhere to the demands of their superiors.”
“Verdicts issued by military courts should be approved by the military leader or his deputy, and he has the right to request the amending of a sentence, or a retrial if the defendants were acquitted,” he adds.
Heshmat also questioned the legal procedures for military trials. Verdicts by military courts are all issued as if the defendants are present, even if they are actually absent.
Since Sisi’s decree, the number of civilians referred to military courts has increased, especially among students arrested on campuses for protesting, many of who have been handed lengthy prison sentences. Universities are now considered military institutions under the new law.
An activist in the “Horreya” (freedom) campaign, concerned with the detention of students, Seif al-Islam Farag, said that the campaign has recorded the cases of 160 students referred to military tribunals, including 48 students from Mansoura University, 31 from Al-Azhar University and 14 from Monufiya University.
He added that the sentences against many of these students are not based on reality, as in the example of student Ahmed Shokier, who was sentenced to life in prison, when he had actually passed away one month before the incident for which he was convicted took place. Another student in Port Said was referred to 11 military tribunals.
Mother of 16-year-old Youssef Shaaban, who was arrested in September, says her son was tortured to make him confess to crimes he didn’t commit, including killing a police officer. The grieving mother says she is not able to visit her son in prison as no one knows his whereabouts.
Father of 19-year-old Ain Shams student Mohamed al-Araby, said that he was surprised when five police officers stormed his house and arrested his son. They said his son had published a video concerning the military and would face charges of “spreading false news about the Armed Forces.” The father was told his son would return home in a few hours, but he never came back.
“Days later, I found a lawyer asking for a lot of money to defend my son who was facing a military trial. When I went to military prosecution, they said there is no need to hire a lawyer, as the case would be heard by a misdemeanor court and not a criminal one. I have just realized that the case was referred to criminal court,” Araby’s father added.
Araby himself spent many weeks in military prison before he was referred to Tora, with signs of torture on his face, according to his father.
The No to Military Trials campaign organizers pleaded with local media to raise the issue of military trials for civilians, which they say threatens everyone under the new legislation.
Translated by Mai Shams El-Din
The Freedom to the Brave group published on Saturday a leaked letter from detainees in the Abu Zaabal Prison in which they complain they were subjected to torture and beating over the past few days.
“All the political prisoners were tortured and the cells were raided by masked central security forces which created panic,” the letter read. “We were attacked with batons and dogs, which led to several injuries and others passed out due to tear gas.”
Fifteen detainees were reportedly taken from their cells and tortured for three hours in front of the others. They were stripped of their clothes and forced to utter profanities, the detainees claimed.
The letter was written by detainees who were arrested on the fourth anniversary of the January 25 revolution for staging protests.
According to Ali Halabi, an activist who has been following the case of the January 25 detainees, it all began when prison forces attacked Ahmed Gamal Zeyada, a journalist, and other detainees tried to protect him.
“After that the cells were raided by masked forces with dogs and they destroyed the property of detainees as well as torturing them,” he told Mada Masr.
The detainees were then kept in the disciplinary room in their underwear for four days.
Reports of torture weren’t limited to Abu Zaabal Prison, but similar cases in Borg al-Arab Prison were reported as well. According to families of detainees, attacks go well beyond verbal assaults, which even the families are subjected to.
“The detainees and even their families are treated badly during visiting hours,” Mostafa al-Attar, brother of detainee Karim al-Attar told Mada Masr. “As soon as we arrive at the prison, security forces start treating us like sheep, ordering us to move from one place to another using profanities.”
Attar said that the detainees are held in confined spaces and are subjected to searches every few days, when their blankets may be burned and possessions destroyed.
“We know they are subjected to much more than that,” Attar said. “They don’t tell us, but they always look broken and they often cry suddenly.”
Kamal Abbas, member of the National Council for Human Rights, told Mada Masr that the council has received numerous reports from different prisons, especially Abu Zaabal and the appeals prisons. Such information includes forcing detainees to stand for hours.
The National Council for Human Rights issued a report last week saying that the Interior Ministry is hindering their visits to prisons, adding that it is prepared to join the prosecution in Shaimaa al-Sabbagh’s case.
“The Interior Ministry has been deliberately obstructing our visit to the prisons for over four months,” Abbas said, “and it denies any reports of torture.”
The council is required to obtain approval for visits from the general prosecution, and the Interior Ministry is required to arrange the visits.
However, Abbas says these rules are ineffective. “Is it realistic for the Ministry of Interior to facilitate a visit for us to ascertain whether or not it is torturing detainees?” he asked.
Abbas explained that the council has long called on previous and current governments to abide by the constitution, which stipulates that visits are by notification and not authorization.
The council’s last visit, Abbas said, was to the January 25’s fourth anniversary detainees. He confirms they had been subjected to torture and beating when they arrived at the prison.
Mada Masr contacted media and human rights officials at the Interior Ministry for comment to no avail.
Mubarak-era Interior Minister Habib al-Adly acquitted of corruption charges in last case against him
Giza Criminal Court acquitted former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly of corruption and squandering public funds worth LE181 million, the state-owned EgyNews website reported on Thursday.
The court also annulled a decision to freeze his personal assets and those of his family.
The Illicit Gains Authority referred Adly to court in 2011, after investigations showed that he had accumulated wealth that was over and above his income. The authority alleged Adly had acquired state-owned lands in 6 October City, despite legal restrictions on the possession of such land by public officials. He used his position to accumulate illicit gains worth over LE6.5 million, the authority claimed.
Investigations also showed that Adly bought four properties for his sons and daughters in violation of the law.
He was previously cleared of similar corruption charges in the “license plates” case, in which Adly and former prime minister Ahmed Nazif were accused of squandering public funds worth LE97 million.
He was also accused of killing January 25 revolution protesters, along with former President Hosni Mubarak and other security aides, but these charges were also dropped. The verdict drew widespread condemnation both locally and internationally, and was hailed as a strong return of Mubarak-era regime officials to public life.
Adly was convicted and sentenced to three years for using central security officers as forced labor on land he owned in 6 October City.
Security sources told Al-Masry Al-Youm that Adly would probably be released from prison, as the period he has already served pending investigations in various cases is equal to the sentence he was given in the “forced labor” case.
If this happens, Adly will be the last Mubarak-era official to be released from prison for corruption charges.
Security cooperation between Israel and the Egyptian regime has intensified under the rule of President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi compared to the time when former President Hosni Mubarak was in power, an Israeli security official said.
The official noted that the Egyptian army’s growing strength does not concern Israel.
A security report said that although Al-Sisi ordered the transfer of army troops to the Libyan border, cooperation between Israel and the Egyptian regime in the “fight against terrorism” is very effective and useful and has strengthened in the past year.
“You could even say that it doubled dozens of times compared to the time when President Hosni Mubarak was in power. During Mubarak’s time, the regime officials lied to their Israeli counterparts promising to destroy Hamas tunnels and did nothing; but today, Egypt is determined to eliminate terrorism,” the report said.
“The Egyptian army’s only point of weakness is that it does not possess advanced technology such as those held by Israel and the United States, and this is a problem that needs time to be solved.”
The report noted that despite the fruitful cooperation with Egypt, Israel has reason to be wary of Egypt’s military growth. “Despite the feeling in Israel that it can rely on the ruling regime, there is lack of clarity about the army’s future policies in the light of the growing tension between Cairo and Washington and rapprochement with Russia, which could harm Israel,” it said.
Hamas spokesperson, Sami Abu Zuhri
Palestinian faction Hamas on Saturday denounced as “shocking” an Egyptian court decision to designate the movement a “terrorist organisation”.”Labeling Hamas as a terrorist organisation is a dangerous decision that represents a shift in Egyptian-Palestinian relations,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Anadolu Agency.
“Unfortunately, the situation has been turned upside down: Israel the enemy has become a friend of Egypt while Hamas – which is an integral part of the Palestinian people – has become a terrorist,” Abu Zuhri said.
The spokesman, however, said that Hamas will not be affected by the Egyptian court verdict as it came to “export Egypt’s domestic problems.”
Earlier Saturday, an Egyptian court designated Hamas as a “terrorist” group over claims that the group had carried out terrorist attacks in Egypt through tunnels linking the Sinai Peninsula to the Gaza Strip.
In March 2014, the same court outlawed Hamas’ activities in Egypt and confiscated its offices.
The court had said that the ban would be temporary until another court – which is trying ousted President Mohamed Morsi for alleged “collaboration” with Hamas to carry out “hostile” acts in Egypt – delivers its final verdict.
Last month, the same court declared the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, a terrorist organisation.
A number of Hamas members have been among the defendants in two trials that Morsi – a Muslim Brotherhood leader – currently faces for alleged espionage and jailbreak.
Egypt’s media has blamed Hamas, an ideological offshoot of the Brotherhood, for a series of deadly attacks on security forces since Morsi’s ouster. Hamas has consistently denied the allegations.
A regime bereft of legitimacy, save for its promise to guarantee national security, turns citizens into active players in a new culture of surveillance and reporting.
During his recent visit to Cairo in November 2014, Alain Gresh, former editor- in-chief of Le Monde Diplomatique, met with a couple of Egyptian acquaintances (a journalist and a student) in a downtown Cairo café. During their chat, which unsurprisingly involved Egyptian politics, a middle-class Egyptian woman at the next table became highly alarmed by the exchange. Her anxiety did not stop at shouting at the journalists, accusing them of conspiring to destroy Egypt, but extended to actually calling upon the security personnel guarding the nearby British Embassy to investigate the said conspiracy. The sad saga, which lasted for a few hours, ended with embarrassment for the Egyptian authorities and an apology to the French journalist.
Despite the Kafkaesque tone of the event, the ‘concerned citizen’ had actually behaved in the only logical way expected of her after a relentless, year-long campaign by the regime and dominant pro-regime media to create a state of mass hysteria regarding Egypt’s security. Since the military takeover of 2013, a public discourse has evolved churning out incessant accounts in which enemies of the Egyptian state and its people, external and internal, known and unknown, human and otherwise, are constantly conspiring to plot against the country and target its security as well as the health of its national economy. Against a rich tapestry of intrigue and terrorist discourse, the security apparatus has emerged, in this narrative, as the only national saviour capable of protecting the country from complete chaos. In fact, the legitimacy of the Sisi regime continues to derive largely from his promise to rid the country of terrorists and to restore security and order. In this regard, he makes grateful use of actual violent attacks against military and other targets especially in Sinai.
However, restoring a sense of trust in the police after the 2011 uprising remains unimaginable for the time being. After all, the 25 January uprising was in many ways a revolt against police brutality and the role of security institutions in reproducing Mubarak’s authoritarian neoliberal order and protecting its elite.
Contrary to mainstream accounts of the 25 January uprising as a peaceful episode led by middle-class, technology-savvy youth, the 18 days uprising saw heavy violence by protesters directed mainly against police targets. During the first days of the uprising, almost 100 police stations were set on fire, many detention cells opened to release detainees and police cars torched. To revamp the image of the police and its tarnished standing for the majority of citizens, an atmosphere of panic in which the police is presented as the only guarantor against total chaos is employed as a strategy. All the same, succeeding in this strategy has been no small feat especially against the backdrop of a shocking series of acquittals of all police officers of any charges of killing thousands of protesters since the January uprising. The regime’s objective of elevating the police image to that of national protector has required the spinning of a web of laws, of deepening layers of surveillance into areas of the everyday lives of citizens and, more importantly, enlisting citizens as participants in an omnipresent police regime.
Criminalising the everyday
During 2014, and in the absence of a functioning Parliament, two consecutive presidents, Adly Mansour and Sisi, decreed 140 new laws between them. The laws either criminalised new areas or made the penalties for already defined criminal activities more severe. This legal arsenal has resulted in criminalising many everyday activities and turning the mundane into the subversive in the public’s mind. The 140 new laws cover areas as varied as civil society organisations receiving foreign funding, practising politics inside university campuses and insulting the national flag. The last instance, embodied in the presidential law 41 of 2014, criminalised any form of insult to the national flag or national anthem which is punishable by a prison sentence of no more than one year and a 30,000 EGP fine. In a bid to comply with the law, the Ministry of Education decided that the same punishment will apply to school pupils whose behaviour in morning assembly could be perceived as ‘insulting’ the Egyptian flag. This could simply be the act of moving or passing in front of the flag while it is being saluted in morning assembly. The responsibility for surveillance and reporting of miscreant pupils is left to fellow-pupils, teachers and school management.
Turning citizens against each other and fuelling existing tensions between competing groups in order to create a ‘culture of informing against fellow citizens’ reached high levels in 2014. One example stands out. After repeated failures to clear Cairo’s city centre of street vendors, despite the use of violence, increased fines and prison sentences, especially since 2012, the Cairo governorate issued a shrewd decree. The decree went beyond pursuing street vendors to targeting fellow citizens who could now be punished for not reporting the offending vendors. The decree punishes, by closure and licence confiscation, any shop owner who allows street vendors to set up their stalls in the immediate vicinity of their shop. Sure enough, the new decree led to a wave of clashes between street vendors and shop owners who had long resented their presence and regarded them as unwanted competition. Many shop owners were only too happy to report the vendors, especially when egged on by the fear of losing their licences.
In a similar spirit of this informing against other, the Ministry of Transport has recently launched the campaign ‘Long live Egypt-Security is our collective responsibility’, encouraging conscientious citizens to report any suspicious behaviour of fellow commuters through a number of hotlines. The reward for reporting is an annual free transport subscription.
Layers of policing
Implementing the myriad new laws and providing surveillance for new areas of criminality has inevitably required an increase in the police force, its budget and its mandate. Already under Mubarak, the Ministry of Interior (MOI) employed 1.7 million individuals in 2009, including 850,000 police personnel and administrative staff, 450,000 Central Security Forces (CFS) personnel, and 400,000 individuals as part of the State Security Investigation Services (SSIS). In addition to formal forces and in order to support the needs of an ever-expanding regime of terror, the MOI started to ‘outsource’ its most ‘dirty’ business to baltagya (thugs). Baltagya are criminals, known to the police, usually with a record of violence, who are paid to carry out duties of ‘disciplining’ members of the public in return for the police turning a blind eye to their criminal activities.
The baltagya’s job description expanded to include voter intimidation, beating up, raping and sexually abusing criminal suspects and political activists, breaking up demonstrations and workers’ strikes, forcibly removing farmers from their land and much more. With the increasing dispossession and impoverishment of more groups in society due to intensive marketisation, Mubarak’s regime became heavily reliant on the police. Since the 1990s, therefore, the MOI budget has consistently increased its share of general expenditure, exceeding those of education and health combined. Since the 25 January uprising, the trend has continued and the budget of the MOI has increased further.
To meet the growing demand for personnel, Egypt’s Police Academy admitted 1850 students for the new academic year in July 2014. The successful candidates, accepted on the basis of lower academic achievements compared to previous years, constituted the largest class intake in the history of the academy. In a press conference held by MOI to mark the occasion, Ahmad Gad, assistant to the minister, quoted the inspiring role of the police force during the June 30th ‘revolution’ to a new generation of youth as the main factor for the rush of young people to join the academy. On the same occasion, it was also announced that new screening procedures had been put in place to exclude from admission any students who belonged to the banned Muslim Brothers (MB) organisation. Around the same time, 75 existing students were being investigated, and facing the prospect of expulsion, in an effort to purge the academy and the police force of any MB elements.
A larger, more tightly-vetted group of police graduates will come in handy to serve the proliferation of new police units. In July 2014, the MOI also reintroduced the traditional system of darak, which was abolished in 1952 in favour of more modern forms of policing. The traditional darak consisted of a single, low-ranking police officer who would patrol the streets to provide surveillance. The reinstated system will now consist of mobile units of three security officers working together. These include one officer armed with a pistol and two conscripts armed with batons. The role of the darak is one of surveillance and reporting. The unit will patrol the streets and report any suspicious behaviour to the closest police station, thus creating a better network of informing and surveillance. The plan is for this new system to be introduced in the two middle-class areas of Zamalek and Qasr El Nil (downtown Cairo) as a first step in a wider national plan.
The MOI has also been recruiting beyond graduates of the academy. In October 2014, the legislative section of the state council approved a draft law establishing community police, a new branch envisaged to involve a larger section of citizens in policing society. This new branch will hire both men and women in the age group between 18 and 22 who hold the minimum qualification of a middle school degree. They will be granted the power of arrest. The new community police units will work on ‘aiding the police in facing crime, enhancing a sense of security among citizens and [more importantly]… creating a culture of security’.
An inflated police force is not unique to Egypt. With the rise of neoliberal capitalism and its strategies of ‘accumulation by dispossession’, many regimes, including those in the ‘democratic’ west, have increased investment in policing and surveillance, especially targeting particular localities and populations; namely the poor, the unemployed, migrants and blacks Different policies such as the infamous ‘stop and search’, the ‘Injunctions for the Prevention of Nuisance and Annoyance’ in the UK and the ‘Prohibited Behaviour Order’ in the State of Western Australia have created a ‘culture of reporting’ and often given increasing discretionary powers to the police.
However, what is peculiar to Egypt is the total sense of impunity that the police has long enjoyed. This impunity, along with the increasing resources and extended mandate discussed above, is set to continue into the foreseeable future as the police serves the current regime in one crucial way. A regime bereft of any source of legitimacy, save for its promise of guaranteeing security to the nation, stops at nothing to inflate a discourse of national security around which to rally an otherwise disgruntled citizenry. Central to cementing this security discourse is the enlisting of large sectors of the population into becoming active players in the surveillance and reporting of society. Perhaps the recent call by the Chairman of the Journalists Syndicate on journalists to report any colleagues ‘proven to have incited against the army and police’ is a taste of what is yet to come.
Egyptian prosecutors referred 271 people to a military court on charges of belonging to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group and attacking court buildings in central Egypt two years ago.
The defendants were charged with ransacking and torching a court building, as well as a prosecution office in the city of Malawi in the Minya province, in August of 2013.
The attack on Malawi’s official buildings happened following the dispersal of two major protest camps staged by supporters of ousted President Mohammed Mursi in Cairo and Giza, during which police and security forces killed more than 1,400 people.
Egyptian prosecutors are legally permitted to refer cases to the military prosecution in cases involving charges of vandalizing government property.
In October of last year, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued a law that allows the referral of violations against state institutions to military courts.
The move was widely criticized by local and international rights organizations, which voiced fear that defendants would not receive fair trials before military courts.
In recent days, prosecutors referred 570 people to military trials on similar charges.
After Sisi’s rise to power, more than 15,000 Mursi supporters were imprisoned, while scores have been sentenced to death after speedy trials which the United Nations has denounced as “unprecedented in recent history.”
Mursi and many top leaders of his now-banned Muslim Brotherhood are themselves in jail and on trial in cases in which they face the death penalty if convicted.
Besides Islamists, many of the leading secular activists behind the 2011 uprising have also found themselves on the wrong side of the new political leadership, getting locked up for taking part in peaceful demonstrations following a ban on unlicensed protests.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued a new law on terrorism, announced in the official Gazette on Tuesday morning.
The law’s 10 articles focus on defining terrorist entities, listing such groups and bodies, and stipulating legal processes for appealing these lists.
The law has been widely criticized since it was first drafted, with some claiming it restricts civil liberties.
Article one of the law defines terrorist entities as: “any association, organization, group or gang that attempts to, aims to, or calls for destabilizing public order; endangers the wellbeing or safety of society; harms individuals or terrorizes them, or endangers their lives or freedoms or rights or safety; endangers social unity; harms the environment or natural resources or monuments or communications or transportation or funds or buildings or public or private property, or occupies them; obstructs the work of public authorities or the judiciary or government entities or local municipalities or houses of worship or hospitals or scientific institutions or diplomatic missions or international organizations; blocks public or private transportation, or roads; harms national unity or threatens national peace; obstructs the implementation of the constitution or laws or bylaws; uses violence or power or threats or acts of terrorism to achieve any of its goals.”
The second article gives the prosecution the right to draw up lists of identified terrorist entities, including groups that are officially ruled as terrorist organizations. The prosecution will also be tasked with generating lists of “terrorists” found guilty of organizing identified terrorist groups.
The law stipulates that organizations designated as terrorist entities must remain on such lists for three weeks, and if no judicial order is issued to confirm the nature of these organizations, the prosecution retains the right to extend the period for further investigation.
Penalties against designated terrorist entities can include dissolving the organization, suspending its activities, shutting down its headquarters, banning meetings held by its members, halting funding to the organization directly or indirectly, freezing assets owned by the organization or its leaders, banning membership to, or promotion of, the group, and temporarily banning the group from political participation.
Mohamed Zaree, Egypt program manager at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) told Mada Masr previously that the law broadens the definition of a terrorist act to such an extent that it could encompass “crimes and even legal activities that do not relate to terrorism, including terms which are difficult to define legally, such as ‘severely undermining public order,’ ‘subjecting the safety, interest, or security of society to danger,’ ‘disrupting the authorities from carrying out some of their activities,’ ‘subjecting the lives, rights, or freedoms of citizens to danger,’ ‘preventing educational institutions from carrying out their work,’ and ‘[carrying out] acts which seek to hinder the implementation of the constitution or the law’.”
Given this broad definition, political groups, activists and civil society organizations could potentially be targeted under the law, he warned.
“It is clear that the principle aim of this bill in its current form is not to counter terrorism, but rather to restrict such groups, movements, and organizations from existing. This provision could easily be interpreted to punish individuals or organizations which call for constitutional or legal reforms, even if done peacefully,” Zaree claimed.
The Cairo Criminal Court overturned prison sentences which had been issued against the Mubarak-era Petroleum Minister Sameh Fahmy and other petroleum officials on Saturday, clearing them of any criminal charges pertaining to the massive losses incurred in the course of Egypt’s natural gas exports to Israel.
Fahmy had been sentenced to 15 years imprisonment in 2012 on charges of misappropriation and squandering public funds. The court had also ruled that he should be dismissed from all his professional duties. Mubarak’s associate, the fugitive business tycoon Hussein Salem, had also been sentenced to 15 years in absentia on the same charges. Three of their co-defendants had also been issued prison sentences ranging from three years to 15 years imprisonment.
According to state-owned media outlets and news agencies, Saturday’s court-ordered acquittals did not include Hussein Salem.
Fahmy had served as Mubarak’s petroleum minister from 1999 to 2011. He was also a member of Mubarak’s then-ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), as well as a member of the NDP’s policy secretariat.
During his tenure as petroleum minister, Fahmy had overseen the sale and export of natural gas to Israel since 2005. The sale of its natural gas to Israel for well below its market value meant that Egypt was incurring hefty losses, along with dwindling national supplies, in the course of this gas export deal.
While the exact extent of losses through this deal are not known, it is estimated that Egypt accumulated several hundred million dollars worth of losses in the six years that it exported its gas to Israel, and perhaps several billions more in light of other sub-market priced deals with Spain and Jordan.
Following dwindling national supplies, and repeated attacks on its natural gas pipeline to Israel, Egypt halted its gas exports to Israel in 2012.
With its subsequent chronic shortage of natural gas supplies, Egypt has recently been considering and discussing the import of natural gas from Algeria, Russia, Cyprus, and potentially even Israel.
Voices censored by the Israeli army for nearly 50 years can finally be heard in a powerful documentary that recently premiered in the Sundance Film Festival.
After an initial introduction “Censored Voices” leads into grainy footage showing the triumphant return of Israeli soldiers from the 1967 war. The streets are lined with people celebrating- Israel had just won the war. Fighting against the forces of Egypt, Syria and Jordan, the odds had seemed stacked against the young nation however, after just 6 days, Israel proclaimed victory tripling the area under their control. The soldiers were returning as heroes.
Weeks after the war ended, Avraham Shapira and Amos Oz travelled from kibbutz to kibbutz with a borrowed reel-to-reel tape recorder. They asked the returned soldiers to recount their emotions. They wanted to, in the words of Oz, “try to explain the fact that we’ve all encountered, that people did not come back happy from this war. There is a sense of sadness that the newspapers don’t address.” But when they moved to publish what they had gathered, the Israeli government censored 70 percent of the material. Shapira published the remaining 30 percent in his book “The Seventh Day: Soldiers’ Talk about the Six-Day War.”
Years on, filmmaker Mor Loushy convinced Shapira to give her access to the tapes. She traced some of the voices they recorded and asked the men behind them to take part in the documentary. We listen as these men, now almost 50 years older, hear the recordings for the first time and the past erupts into the present.
“Several times we captured guys, positioned them and just killed them,” one veteran recalls. Another says: “I was amazed at the calmness with which I was shooting… it was like at an amusement park.” One returning soldier tells of a time he killed an Egyptian soldier, and when gathering up the man’s papers finds a picture of his children- only then does it seem he registers this man as a human being.
After the war ends, the brutality does not stop. They recount orders to shoot Egyptian soldiers even after the ceasefire had begun, the callous killing of Syrian men, now refugees, yards away from their wives and children and a 70 year old Palestinian man forced to carry his lifetime’s belongings on his back- scenes that echo those of the Holocaust. Watching the elderly man take one last look at his house and weep, one of the soldiers says: “I had an abysmal feeling I was evil, a despicable person and nothing can make that feeling go away.”
The documentary takes an unflinching look at Israeli atrocities during a point in history that has been enshrined as a moment of victory within the Israeli psyche. The men today are mostly disillusioned with the Israeli state and the brand of Zionism it represents. Some say they have given up on peace or humanity, but they do not seem to be anti-Zionism or anti-Israel. It is much more of an anti-war documentary. As one of the few honest accounts of what happened in 1967 through the eyes of those who were part of it, it has great value. As Israel continues to conscript its youth into war, the tales they tell will mirror that of their grandchildren and their grandchildren’s grandchildren.
Towards the end of the documentary one soldier ponders on the future of Israel; “Are we destined to bomb villages every decade for defence purposes?” In 1967, he was tragically close to the truth.