"We got rid of the dictator, but not of the dictatorship"

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Impressions from (post)-revolutionary Egypt

From 11 to 15 May we – Andreas Speck, WRI's Right to Refuse to Kill programme worker, and Igor Seke, conscientious objector from Serbia – visited Egypt, originally to act as facilitators and resource persons in two workshops on conscientious objection, pacifism, and military service, which were planned with Maikel Nabil Sanad before his arrest on 28 March 20111. Andreas Speck also visited Cairo in early April 2011, during the trial of Maikel Nabil Sanad2. In this article, we try to report on our impressions of Egypt after the revolution.

On 7 March, a few weeks after the resignation of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, Maikel Nabil Sanad wrote a article on his blog3, analysing in detail the role of the Egyptian military during and after the revolution. He came to the conclusion that the people and the military never “were one hand” - as people said so often during the revolution.

Before that Maikel already wrote how on 28 January 2011, when the police shot at the hundreds of thousands of protesters on Tahrir Square, the military always supplied the police with ammunition when the police ran out of it. Maikel was arrested by the military on 4 February, he was tortured, and finally released after 27 hours4. Amnesty International too reported that during the revolution the military arrested and tortured activists5. Maikel's position could be summed up with the title of this article - “We got rid of the dictator, but not of the dictatorship.

The questionableness of the role of the military can also be linked to personalities. For example, Mubarak's former Minister of Defence Muhammad Tantawi is now the chair of „Supreme Council of the Armed Forces“ (SCAF) Egypt's de-facto rulers. He always opposed reforms because he feared the government's political and economical power would erode6. It is also telling that Tantawi's nickname was “Mubarak's poodle”.

In Egypt, the military is also an important player in the economy. Many companies, especially in the water and olive oil business, the cement and construction industry or in tourism, are owned by retired officers. The Egyptian Army was a stable partner of the US during Mubarak's era. US military and financial aid to the Egyptian Army is what helped it play the central role in maintaining Mubarak in power7, as a guarantee that there will be no radical Islamist influence in Egyptian politics. It's difficult to believe that all the bonds between Mubarak and the pillars that are were holding him in power for over 35 years are now broken.

Repression after the revolution

Maikel Nabil Sanad describes in his article that already shortly after Mubarak's resignation it was the objective of the military to clear Tahrir Square of protesters. First the military banned photography on Tahrir Square on 12 February 2011, to have a free hand against people who might document the abuses of the military. In the weeks that followed the military and police repeatedly attacked protesters who remained on Tahrir Square. And on 9 March, after a demonstration against the proposals for amendments to the Egyptian constitution, Tahrir Square was again cleared from protesters violently. More than 190 people were arrested by the military and tortured in the nearby Egyptian museum or in military prisons. The German paper “Die Zeit” reported that thugs brutally beat the protesters in front of the military8.

They tortured me with electric shocks on legs and breast, and addressed me with obscene names“, reported female activist Salma al-Husseini Guda. In the military prison they were brought to, the female prisoners had to strip. The unmarried women were subjected to a forced “virginity exam”, conducted on a bed in a prison hallway, by a man. When the women pleaded to be examined by a woman instead, they were threatened with cattle prods, Ms. Guda said. Those who were found not to be virgins were threatened to be charged with prostitution. During their ordeal the victims were also filmed9. We were later told by friends of one of those arrested that her parents tried to kill her, as her honour had been violated, although she was examined by force.

At the end of March, the interim government passed a new law that bans any form of protest that has an impact on the smooth functioning of the institutions or the economy. Only four hours after the law came into force, the military made use of it and cleared the occupation of Cairo University. Through strikes and the occupation the students demanded to replace the old deans and lecturers, who had been put in place by the Mubarak regime10.

Human Rights Watch reported that General Etman, head of the Morale Affairs Directorate of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, on 22 March sent a letter to editors of Egyptian newspapers telling them „not to publish any articles/news/press releases/complaints/advertising/pictures concerning the armed forces or the leadership of the armed forces, except after consulting the Morale Affairs directorate and the Military Intelligence since these are the competent parties to examine such issues to protect the safety of the nation.11

A further escalation followed on 8 April. It was the biggest demonstration since the resignation of Mubarak, and protesters were not only demanding that Mubarak would be put on trial, and that the provincial governors he had put in place would be replaced, but many protesters were also denouncing human rights violations by the SCAF and were demanding the resignation of Tantawi and creation of a civilian transition government.

The same night, the military again stormed Tahrir Square. At least two people were shot dead, and many more injured12. The following day, the highly symbolical Tahrir Square was again occupied, but protesters were evicted again on 12 April. And again it was thugs supporting the military and handing over people to the military13. In the hours that followed, people were often arrested randomly in the streets around Tahrir Square14.

The Egyptian people demonstrated non-violently to overthrow Mubarak, and maintained the spirit of non-violent revolution even when the security forces were opening live fire against them, causing more than 800 deaths in only a few weeks. Although there is numerous evidence that the Army was acting against the protesters during the revolution15, the SCAF and a large part of the mainstream media in Egypt try to maintain the myth that they are the only guarantee for a democratic transition of the country. However, it is obvious that the SCAF is ruling the country the same way Mubarak did, and it is using the most brutal forms of repression against it's opponents.16

The case Maikel Nabil Sanad

The sentencing of Maikel Nabil is a clear message of the military that any civilian who criticises the military will be arrested“, said Adel Ramadan, lawyer of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, who was part of Nabil's team of lawyers17.

Maikel was arrested by military police in his flat on 28 March, and initially a detention order was given for 15 days, while he was put on trial. The author of this article went to Cairo on 2 April as an observer on behalf of War Resisters' International, but not only he, also Maikel's friends and supporters were not allowed to observe the trial at the military court in Nasr City in Cairo. Even though the trial lasted almost two weeks – normally trials at military courts last only five minutes – it can still not be considered a fair trial.

Firstly, the trial was conducted mostly without any public present. Secondly, Maikel and his defence team did not have sufficient time to prepare an effective defence. And thirdly as a civilian Maikel should not have been tried in a military court.

Especially scandalous were the circumstances of the sentencing. His family and lawyers were told on 10 April that sentencing would be on 12 April. After they had left the court room, Maikel was then – in absence of his family and lawyers – sentenced to three years' imprisonment. Only through the phone call of another person, who visited his brother in prison, did Maikel's family learn of the sentence.

And even then the lies continued. On the next day, they were told that Maikel had been brought to Tora prison. A soldier guarding Maikel allowed Maikel to secretly use his mobile phone to inform his brother and to tell him that he was imprisoned in El-Marg prison.

In a message he was able to smuggle out of prison he told his friends that he had been arrested in order to silence him. And in an article smuggled out he wrote: „I can feel the intention of harming me after the court ruling. Don’t believe the army’s worthless claims about suicide attempts. Hence, the Military Council is responsible for my safety and well-being until the time of my release.18

Although high representatives of the European Union and EU countries expressed their concerns about Maikel Nabil Sanad's imprisonment, there has so far not been a solution. German Federal Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, at the meeting with his Egyptian counterpart Nabil El-Araby, said that the sentence imposed on Maikel is a step back in the democratisation of Egypt, and that Germany wants “encourage those people who are bringing the democratic process forward.19 During his visit to Egypt on 2 and 3 May, Štefan Füle, EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, raised his concerns about a number of reported human rights violations in Egypt, and specifically mentioned Maikel's case as one of the most obvious cases20.

Military service and the right to conscientious objection

Conscription is a cornerstone of male socialisation in Egypt, guaranteeing the military indoctrination of a large part of Egyptian society. Military service is obligatory for all men aged between 18 and 30 and it lasts for 3 years. There is no legal right to conscientious objection21.

During one of our workshops we had a long and open discussion with mostly young men on compulsory military service and conscientious objection. Some of the participants considered the army the most corrupted institution of the state. But the real problem is not just corruption, it is militarism in itself. There are different strategies and actions young men take in order to avoid military service by being declared “not fit” for it. However, most of them believe that peace cannot be achieved until Israel is demilitarised, and if Israel keeps nuclear weapons and continues to buy arms as it is doing now, Arab countries will never accept any kind of demilitarisation or reduction of their armed forces – so the widespread opinion.

Rise of religious tensions

Shortly before we arrived in Egypt, a Coptic church was burned and 11 people were killed in clashes that followed, while more than 200 were injured (65 had bullet wounds) on 7 May 2011. While some accuse the "Salafists", radical Muslims, to be behind the attacks, others accuse members of Mubarak's old National Security who want to seed chaos in the country. Although most of the people we spoke to believe that Mubarak's old State Security is behind the attack on Christians, a fact is that even before the revolution, while Mubarak was still in power, 23 Copts were killed in a bomb attack at the Coptic Church in Alexandria on the 13 January 2011.

On 13 May we witnessed a massive but peaceful Coptic protest in Cairo, in front of the national TV station. The main chant of the demonstrations was "They are taking our rights away! What do we do? What do we do?" The following day, 14 May, there was an attack against the Coptic protesters with Molotov cocktails on this same spot.

Conclusions

The media, especially television as the most powerful one, is trying to convince the people that the revolution was successful and that now, when the freedom has been gained, the job is done and the revolution is over. Around Tahrir Square a variety of post-revolutionary merchandise of any kind is for sale, but none of it is about keeping the flame of the revolution alive, it is only about the memory of the revolution, especially the 25 January, when the biggest demonstration took place.

However, in spite of these attempts by the media and by the old elites, people are still wary, and from time to time rise up again. Strikes are still widespread, even though they have been effectively outlawed. In a Facebook page entitled "The 2nd revolution of anger", activists say the fundamental demands of the uprising – to protect rights and freedoms – have not been met22. At present, the timetable and plans for the transitions get more attention, and many secular opposition groups are demanding to postpone the elections, and are calling for a large demonstration on 8 July.

Clearly – the revolution is not over. The coming months and even years will still be turbulent and interesting times in Egypt, and the outcome is still very much open.

Andreas Speck and Igor Seke

Notes

3An edited English version of this article can be found on the website of War Resisters' International at http://wri-irg.org/node/12484.

5Amnesty International: Ägypten: Militär muss Folter endlich stoppen, http://www.amnesty.de/presse/2011/2/17/aegypten-militaer-muss-endlich-folter-stoppen, Zugriff am 13. April 2011

6CNN: Egyptian defense chief unknown in West, derided at home, 11 February 2011, http://articles.cnn.com/2011-02-11/world/egypt.tantawi.profile_1_egyptian-defense-egyptian-armed-forces-president-hosni-mubarak?_s=PM:WORLD, accessed 20 April 2011

7According to the State Department, US military aid to Egypt totals over US$1.3 billion annually. In addition, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) has provided over US$ (http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/5309.htm, accessed 10 June 2011). The total annual US aid is US$ 2 billion (The Telegraph, 29 January 2011, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/financetopics/8290133/Most-US-aid-to-Egypt-goes-to-military.html, accessed 10 June 2011)

8Die Zeit: Foltervorwürfe gegen Ägyptens Armee, 29 March 2011, http://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2011-03/aegypten-proteste-folter, accessed on 13 April 2011

9New York Times: Freedom’s Painful Price, 26 March 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/27/opinion/27kristof.html?_r=1, accessed on 20 April 2011

10Die tageszeitung: Das Ende der Küsse, 2. April 2011, http://www.taz.de/1/archiv/digitaz/artikel/?ressort=tz&dig=2011/04/02/a0024&cHash=697f0b5b1b, accessed on 13 April 2011

11Human Rights Watch: Egypt: Blogger’s 3-Year Sentence a Blow to Free Speech, 11. April 2011, http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2011/04/11/egypt-blogger-s-3-year-sentence-blow-free-speech, accessed on 13 April 2011

12FAZ: Tote auf dem Tahrir-Platz, 9. April 2011, http://www.faz.net/s/Rub87AD10DD0AE246EF840F23C9CBCBED2C/Doc~E7659B27821214D27878381BF70095A42~ATpl~Ecommon~Scontent.html, accessed on 13 April 2011; see also: Kristin Jankowski: Ich kann nicht verstehen, warum sie Patronen gegen uns einsetzen. Linke Zeitung, 12. April 2011, http://www.linkezeitung.de/cms/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=10897&Itemid=1, accessed on 13 April 2011

13Private communication from eye witnesses to the authors.

14Kristine Jankoswki: „Gehe nicht nach draussen. Es werden willkürlich Leute in Downtown festgenommen“, Linke Zeitung, 13. April 2011, http://www.linkezeitung.de/cms/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=10903&Itemid=1, accessed on 13 April 2011

15Besides Maikel Nabil Sanad's blog post that got him imprisoned, there is also a comprehensive report by Amnesty International: Egypt rises: Killings, detentions and torture in the '25 January Revolution', 19 May 2011, http://amnesty.org/en/library/asset/MDE12/027/2011/en/b33cf2ea-e057-4a34-905b-46a897c4fe6d/mde120272011en.pdf, accessed 23 June 2011

16The New York Times: 2 Protesters Killed in Egypt’s Tahrir Square, 9 April 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/10/world/middleeast/10egypt.html, accessed 23 June 2011

17Die Welt: Ägyptens Jugend feiert die Verhaftung der Mubaraks, 13. April 2011, http://www.welt.de/politik/ausland/article13165359/Aegyptens-Jugend-feiert-die-Verhaftung-der-Mubaraks.html, accessed on 13 April 2011

18Maikel Nabil Sanad: Fleeing thoughts from the military prison, 12 April 2011, http://wri-irg.org/node/12764, accessed on 13 April 2011

19Supporting democratic development, 19 April 2011, http://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/EN/AAmt/BM-Reisen/2011/04-EGY-VAE/110418-Ankuendigung.html, accessed 23 June 2011; See also: Human Rights Commissioner concerned about the sentencing of Egyptian blogger Maikel Nabil, 12 April 2011, http://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/EN/Infoservice/Presse/Meldungen/2011/110412-%C3%84gyptischer-Blogger.html, accessed 23 June 2011

20Štefan Füle European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy A new and ambitious European Neighbourhood Policy European Neighbourhood Policy Review Brussels, 25 May 2011, http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=SPEECH/11/381&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en, accessed 23 June 2011

21War Resisters' International: Country report and updates: Egypt, 21 July 1998, http://wri-irg.org/programmes/world_survey/reports/Egypt, accessed 23 June 2011

22Egypt activists say revolution must go 'back to basics', 24 June 2011, http://www.france24.com/en/20110624-egypt-activists-say-revolution-must-go-back-basics#, accessed 24 June 2011