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Current Egypt Update!

11/10/2011 from the New York Times

Recent Developments

Oct. 9 A demonstration by angry Christians in Cairo touched off a night of violent protests against the military council ruling Egypt, leaving 24 people dead and more than 200 wounded in the worst spasm of violence since the ouster of President Mubarak. The protest occurred against a backdrop of escalating tensions between Muslims and Coptic Christians, and appeared to catch fire because it was aimed squarely at the military council, at a moment when the military’s delays in turning over power had led to a spike in public distrust of its authority.

Sept. 24 Egypt’s military ruler, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, testified at the trial of his onetime patron and colleague, former President Hosni Mubarak, in a closed hearing that disappointed prosecutors who had hoped he would help determine whether the ousted Egyptian leader conspired to order the killing of unarmed demonstrators in his final days in power in February.

Sept. 12 Acknowledging a credibility crisis after it allowed a mob to invade the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, the military-led transitional government said that it would exploit a reviled “emergency law” allowing extra-judicial detentions as part of a new crackdown on disruptive protests. This marked an abrupt reversal for the military council, which had promised to eliminate the law, which had been considered emblematic of Mr. Mubarak’s authoritarian rule.

Background — Before the Revolution

Egypt is a heavyweight in Middle East diplomacy, in part because of its peace treaty with Israel, and as a key ally of the United States. The country, often the fulcrum on which currents in the region turn, also has one of the largest and most sophisticated security forces in the Middle East.

Mr. Mubarak has been in office since the assassination of Anwar el-Sadat on Oct. 16, 1981, whom he served as vice president. Until the recent unrest, he had firmly resisted calls to name a successor. He had also successfully negotiated complicated issues of regional security, solidified a relationship with Washington, maintained cool but correct ties with Israel and sharply suppressed Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism — along with dissent in general.

The government for decades maintained what it calls an Emergency Law, passed first in 1981 to combat terrorism after the assassination of Mr. Sadat. The law allows police to arrest people without charge, detain prisoners indefinitely, limit freedom of expression and assembly, and maintain a special security court.

In 2010, the government promised that it would only use the law to combat terrorism and drug trafficking, but terrorism was defined so broadly as to render that promise largely meaningless, according to human rights activists and political prisoners.

From Apathy to Anger

While Mr. Mubarak’s regime had become increasingly unpopular, the public long seemed mired in apathy. For years, the main opposition to his rule appeared to be the Muslim Brotherhood, which was officially banned but still commanded significant support.

In 2010, speculation rose as to whether Mr. Mubarak, who underwent gall bladder surgery that year and appeared increasingly frail, would run in the 2011 elections or seek to install his son Gamal as a successor. Mr. ElBaradei, the former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, publicly challenged Mr. Mubarak’s autocratic rule, but the Mubarak political machine steamrolled its way to its regular lopsided victory in a parliamentary vote.

The anger fueling the street protests was not new. It had been seething beneath the surface for many years, exploding at times, but never before in such widespread, sustained fury.The grievances are economic, social, historic and deeply personal. Egyptians often speak of their dignity, which many said has been wounded by Mr. Mubarak’s monopoly on power, his iron-fisted approach to security and corruption that has been allowed to fester. Even government allies and insiders have been quick to acknowledge that the protesters have legitimate grievances that need to be addressed.

In the last few years, Egypt has struggled through a seemingly endless series of crises and setbacks.The sinking of a ferry left 1,000 mostly poor Egyptians lost at sea, an uncontrollable fire gutted the historic Parliament building, terrorists attacked Sinai resorts, labor strikes affected nearly every sector of the work force and sectarian-tinged violence erupted.

And in nearly every case, the state addressed the issue as a security matter, deploying the police, detaining suspects, dispersing crowds. That was also true in 2010, even as evidence mounted of growing tension between Egypt’s Muslim majority and a Christian minority that includes about 10 percent of the approximately 80 million Egyptians.

A Police State

Egypt’s police bureaucracy reaches into virtually every aspect of public life here, and changing its ways is no easy task, everyone concedes. Police officers direct traffic and investigate murders, but also monitor elections and issue birth and death certificates and passports. Every day, 60,000 Egyptians visit police stations, according to the Interior Ministry. In a large, impoverished nation, the services the police provide give them wide — and, critics say, unchecked — power.

The Egyptian police have a long and notorious track record of torture and cruelty to average citizens. One case that drew widespread international condemnation involved a cellphone video of the police sodomizing a driver with a broomstick. In June 2010, Alexandria erupted in protests over the fatal beating by police of beating Khaled Said, 28. The authorities said he died choking on a clump of marijuana, until a photograph emerged of his bloodied face. In December 2010, a suspect being questioned in connection with a bombing was beaten to death while in police custody.Abuse is often perpetrated by undercover plainclothes officers like the ones who confronted Mr. Said, and either ordered or allowed by their superiors, the head investigators who sit in every precinct.

The government denies there is any widespread abuse and frequently blames rogue officers for episodes of brutality. Even so, for the past 10 years, officers from the police academy have attended a human rights program organized by the United Nations and the Interior Ministry.

A Stagnant Economy

On the economic front, Egypt’s most important sources of income remain steady, with tourism the notable exception. The other pillars of the economy — gas and oil sales; Suez Canal revenues and remittances from workers abroad — are either stable or growing, according to Central Bank figures.

But those sources of income have accomplished little more than propping up an ailing economy. Over all, economic activity came to a standstill for months, with growth expected to tumble to under 2 percent in 2011 from a robust 7 percent in 2010. Official unemployment rates rose to at least 12 percent from 9 percent. Foreign investment is negligible.

Part of the blame for Egypt’s economic malaise rests with the caretaker cabinet, which reports to the ruling military council. The ministers, mindful that several businessmen who served in the Mubarak government sit in jail on corruption convictions, are reluctant to sign off on new projects.

Military Rule

The ruling generals and their supporters argue that repeated demonstrations and strikes by unrepresentative activists are undermining all attempts to restore stability and the economy.

Activists accuse the generals of resurrecting the Mubarak playbook to stay in power. The military deploys draconian measures to silence critics, they say, banning strikes and singling out individual critics.

The surprise appearance of posters of the military’s top officer, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, and the slogan “Egypt Above All” fueled widespread suspicions that the generals want him to be the fifth military president in a row since the armed forces seized Egypt’s government in 1952. Presidential elections are likely to be at least a year away.

The generals denied any connection to the campaign, but activists recognize that toppling Mr. Mubarak turned out to be the easy part and that they should have pushed harder for sweeping change while they had momentum.

Update on the Current Situation in Egypt

ETSC President Atef Gendy’s Description of Recent Events in Egypt and Evaluation of the Current Situation

On New Year’s Eve, Egypt was hit by a suicide bomb that took the lives of 23 Christians as they were leaving worship in a large Orthodox Churches in Alexandria. For the first time among similar incidents, the majority of citizens responded in grief and anger. Average Muslims were so prompt and genuine in condemning such terrorist attacks against Christians that the government could not treat the matter lightly as it usually does in similar circumstances. That day, I realized that Egypt was not the same any more. People were getting impatient with the lack of transparency and superficial handling of serious problems!

By the 20th of January, 80,000 young Egyptians, probably motivated by the boldness and revolutionary spirit in Tunisia, had already responded positively to an invitation on Facebook and Twitter to gather for a peaceful demonstration at the Liberation Square in Cairo (the largest square in Cairo, which lies in downtown Cairo) on the 25th of January. The government did not take that move seriously, thinking that it was no more than an internet activity that could not result in anything significant. To everyone’s surprise, including the government, there were over 250,000 persons demonstrating at the Liberation Square and many thousands in several other major cities and towns across the country. The demonstrators had some legitimate requests such as:

(1) A serious solution for the increasing unemployment in Egypt;

(2) Increasing the very low salaries that put many Egyptians under the poverty line;

(3) the dissolution of the newly-elected Egyptian parliament based on widespread belief that the results were fraudulent;

(4) Changing the Egyptian Constitution in a way that guarantees true democracy, especially in the election of the president;

(5 ) Establishing term limitations for the president to ensure that no president will serve more than two terms;

(6) Condemning corruption, especially that has resulted from the “marriage” between authority and capitalism (since both the parliament and the government included some very wealthy and, probably corrupt business people).

Until January 28 the regime had nothing to offer to the youth making these demands, As a result, hundreds of thousands of people left the mosques after the Friday Islamic prayers and joined demonstrations across the country. The demonstrators raised the ceiling of their requests; asking for the resignation of the cabinet and the departure of President Mubarak. Unfortunately, violence erupted between the police and demonstrators. The Egyptian TV and radio announced that President Mubarak ordered the army to help the police in restoring the nation’s security. However, suddenly, and in a mysterious, scandalous and unprecedented way, the police withdrew not only from the demonstration points, but also from all their daily positions (including police stations, streets, prisons, and important state buildings). Pictures showed army tanks and vehicles coming into streets. The matter took quite a time during which there was at least 2-3 hours of a vacuum.

This issue resulted in a kind of chaos in the whole country, since thousands of criminals broke out of prisons and started igniting fires, destroying and robbing banks, homes, businesses, shops, cars, in addition to stealing weapons and clothes and ID cards of police personnel. Damage and destruction reached tourist sites, courts, museums, state buildings, etc.

Late that evening, the president gave a speech stating that he would appoint a vice president for the first time in his 30 year reign. He also called the cabinet to step down in order to be replaced under a new prime minster. Although the two appointed men are well respected, people felt unsatisfied and kept demonstrating.

Many opposition parties and political powers, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, exploited the chaos and actively sought to increase it. On Tuesday evening (1 February), Mubarak gave another speech which genuinely and seriously addressed almost all what the demonstrators requested from the first day. He made it clear that he had no intention to run in the upcoming presidential elections but he wanted to use the few remaining months to supervise a safe and democratic transition of power and the constitutional amendments in the articles related to the election of the president. Most people received his speech positively, but many young demonstrators, are still standing till this moment at Liberation Square, requesting only Mubarak’s resignation.

On 2 and 3 February there were very violent encounters between thousands of Mubarak’s opposition, who want him to leave, and thousands of those who received his last speech positively and felt that he and the newly assigned leaders must take their chance to execute the pledges they made. Since the problem started, Cairo, Alexandria and Suez have been set under curfew for long hours each day.

Where is Egypt going now?

No one knows. We feel like we are in a vicious cycle with a lack of trust between various groups (the current regime, the opposition, the youth who do not strongly support any particular party). In addition, there is a sense that many internal and external powers have hidden agendas and want to exploit the current chaos.

What is the current status of the seminary and the church in Egypt?

The current political crisis does not involve targeting the church or Christians in Egypt. That said, Christians fear that in the absence of stability, the Muslim Brotherhood or any Islamic power might exploit the chaos and seize power.

The crisis also resulted in alterations to our daily lives here in Egypt. As almost every house, institution or building in Cairo, we (the professors of the seminary with our children and workers who live on campus) are taking shifts in guarding the seminary against robbers and attackers until the police return to assume full power and restores security.

Prayer requests:

Restoring the security in the nation and the lost authority of the state.

Arresting the criminals who escaped from prisons and are keeping people terrified. Holding previous leaders accountable for the negligence or corruption that caused this security vacuum to happen.

Setting an end of divisions, destruction and violence so that the people of Egypt can return to their lives.

Smooth and dignified transition of power.

Positive spirit of all parties and genuine desire to reach an acceptable resolution to current problems during the negotiations between the government and the leaders of the protests.

Fresh opportunity for real democracy and development and in Egypt.

Thank you all for your prayer, kind care and concern!

Atef M. Gendy

ETSC, President

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