Dying young: The trauma of revolution

Corpse at the Coptic Hospital Morgue after the Maspero massacre, Cairo, October 10, 2011: © Scott Nelson

The official media cliche on Egypt’s revolution is now that it’s “unfinished.”  What this means is that revolutionary struggle has now gone on for a year, with an enormous cost not just in bloodshed and death but in psychological horror. A whole generation of previously sheltered, middle-class youth has witnessed murder and suffering up close, in a way that no cadre of young Egyptians has since the 1973 War. Indeed, they’ve seen it closer than their military predecessors: this is no orderly war, with a defined front line that keeps death to itself, the hardened soldiers guarding it like a secret gift. At Maspero, at Mohamed Mahmoud Street, in Port Said, death erupts suddenly, geysering out of nowhere with treacherous, chthonic force. Whatever you can say (and I’ve said it) about the isolated upper- and middle-class backgrounds of many revolutionaries and rights activists, over the last year they’ve lost their cocoons, watched the beaten and the blinded, seen pain in proximity. Mahmoud Salem (aka @Sandmonkey), a well-known liberal campaigner, tweeted as a grim 2012 dawned: “Years from now, when all of this quiets down, I am not sure there is a situation anywhere in the world that we will not be able to handle.”  I too hope.

Al-Ahram interviewed some young activists about “post-revolution trauma,” in an article they called simply “Dying Young.” 21-year-old Mahmoud Hany, the reporter writes,

has a young bearded face and the haunted eyes of someone who has seen too much. “Since the revolution began, with the exception of the month of August, I’ve lost at least one friend every month,” Hany says.

Even before the revolution, Hany was politically active. He used to attend numerous anti-Mubarak protests, when the notorious state security forces would frequently treat protesters violently. But nothing prepared him for what he was about to experience when the uprising began in January 2011.

He smelled tear gas for the first time on 25 January of last year, saw the first person die in front of him on 28 January, and visited a morgue to identify a friend for the first time in April.

After a year of being on the receiving end of assaults by security forces against protesters, Hany has acquired an uncanny knowledge of the different kinds of weapons being used against him and his friends.

There are three kinds of tear gas used on protesters, Hany explains. The one with the red label is manufactured in the US; the one with the blue label is British-made. He also knows that there are two different kinds of rubber bullet: the copper, which comes in six sizes, and the rubber, which only has one size. He knows that a live bullet is 9 mm long, and that a sniper-rifle beams a green light before it hits its target.

As time went on, and clashes escalated, Hany and his friends invented new ways to deal with these weapons. At first, they used vinegar and Pepsi to counteract the burning effects of tear gas on their eyes and faces. Later, however, they learned that yeast and medical drips work better.

“We learned these things from trial and error. Now, we’re so experienced that we can help the injured more than the medics,” he says. “Some people have also started using face masks to stop themselves from inhaling the gas. But I like doing things old school – I just use my Kuffayah,” he smiles.

And after one year of on-again, off-again post-revolutionary violence, Hany has also learned what no one his young age should: what the face of a dying person looks like. “Usually their mouth is open, they look pale, their eyes are unfocused and their breathing is unstable,” he says.

Even more horrifying is how well acquainted Hany is with the interior of Cairo’s notorious Zeinhom Morgue. The things that he witnessed in there, he says, will haunt him for the rest of his life.

“The stench was horrifying,” he remembers. “The drawers meant to hold the bodies are all broken, so bodies are often piled on top of each other haphazardly. In order to identify one body, you have to see all of them.”

Many of the corpses Hany saw in the morgue bore traces of the as-yet-unidentified gas they were subject to. “Some of them had weird skin eruptions and colours all over their bodies; others had completely lost their facial features,” he recalls.

Read the whole article here. 

Prison letter from Alaa Abd el Fattah

Jailed Egyptian blogger Alaa Abd el Fattah sends a second, self-lacerating letter from prison:

Let’s begin from the start: How are you? I am Alaa, a foot soldier in the revolution, there are those who sacrificed more than me, those who are much more courageous than me, and those whose role is much more important than mine.

I am Alaa, proud that I am doing what I can and sometimes surprise myself with what I am capable of. And I know myself and what I am not capable of. I try never to fail my commitments, I try to overcome fear always and I constantly try to be in the front lines at all times.

Sign the petition calling for his release.

November 12, Defend the Revolution: A letter from Cairo to Occupy / Decolonize movements

From Egypt’s Campaign to End Military Trials of Civilians, this is worth reproducing in full:

Call-Out for Solidarity with Egypt: Defend the Revolution

© Adam Dot 2011

A letter from Cairo to the Occupy/Decolonize movements & other solidarity movements.

After three decades of living under a dictatorship, Egyptians started a revolution demanding bread, freedom and social justice. After a nearly utopian occupation of Tahrir Square lasting 18 days, we rid ourselves of Mubarak and began the second, harder, task of removing his apparatuses of power. Mubarak is gone, but the military regime lives on. So the revolution continues – building pressure, taking to the streets and claiming the right to control our lives and livelihoods against systems of repression that abused us for years. But now, seemingly so soon after its beginnings, the revolution is under attack. We write this letter to tell you about what we are seeing, how we mean to stand against this crackdown, and to call for your solidarity with us.

  • The 25th and 28th of January, the 11th of February: you saw these days, lived these days with us on television. But we have battled through the 25th of February, the 9th of March, the 9th of April, the 15th of May, the 28th of June, the 23rd of July, the 1st of August, the 9th of September, the 9th of October. Again and again the army and the police have attacked us, beaten us, arrested us, killed us. And we have resisted, we have continued; some of these days we lost, others we won, but never without cost. Over a thousand gave their lives to remove Mubarak. Many more have joined them in death since. We go on so that their deaths will not be in vain. Names like Ali Maher (a 15 year old demonstrator killed by the army in Tahrir, 9th of April), Atef Yehia (shot in the head by security forces in a protest in solidarity with Palestine, 15th of May), Mina Danial (shot by the Army in a protest in front of Masepro, 9th of October). Mina Daniel, in death, suffers the perverse indignity of being on the military prosecutor’s list of the accused.
  • Moreover, since the military junta took power, at least 12,000 of us have been tried by military courts, unable to call witnesses and with limited access to lawyers. Minors are serving in adult prisons, death sentences have been handed down, torture runs rampant. Women demonstrators have been subjected to sexual assault in the form of “virginity tests” by the Army.
  • On October 9th, the Army massacred 28 of us at Maspero; they ran us over with tanks andshot us down in the street while manipulating state media to try and incite sectarian violence. The story has been censored. The military is investigating itself. They are systematically targeting those of us who speak out. This Sunday, our comrade and blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah was imprisoned on trumped-up charges. He spends another night in an unlit cell tonight.
  • All this from the military that supposedly will ensure a transition to democracy, that claimed to defend the revolution, and seemingly convinced many within Egypt and internationally that it was doing so. The official line has been one of ensuring “stability”, with empty assurances that the Army is only creating a proper environment for the upcoming elections. But even once a new parliament is elected, we will still live under a junta that holds legislative, executive, and judicial authority, with no guarantee that this will end. Those who challenge this scheme are harassed, arrested, and tortured; military trials of civilians are the primary tool of this repression. The prisons are full of casualties of this “transition”.
We now refuse to co-operate with military trials and prosecutions. We will not hand ourselves in, we will not submit ourselves to questioning. If they want us, they can take us from our homes and workplaces.

Nine months into our new military repression, we are still fighting for our revolution. We are marching, occupying, striking, shutting things down. And you, too, are marching, occupying, striking, shutting things down. We know from the outpouring of support we received in January that the world was watching us closely and even inspired by our revolution. We felt closer to you than ever before. And now, it’s your turn to inspire us as we watch the struggles of your movements. We marched to the US Embassy in Cairo to protest the violent eviction of the occupation in Oscar Grant Plaza in Oakland. Our strength is in our shared struggle. If they stifle our resistance, the 1% will win – in Cairo, New York, London, Rome – everywhere. But while the revolution lives our imaginations knows no bounds. We can still create a world worth living.
You can help us defend our revolution.
The G8, IMF and Gulf states are promising the regime loans of $35 billion. The US gives the Egyptian military $1.3 billion in aid every year. Governments the world over continue their long-term support and alliance with the military rulers of Egypt. The bullets they kill us with are made in America. The tear gas that burns from Oakland to Palestine is made in Wyoming. David Cameron’s first visit to post-revolutionary Egypt was to close a weapons deal. These are only a few examples. People’s lives, freedoms and futures must stop being trafficked for strategic assets. We must unite against governments who do not share their people’s interests.
We are calling on you to undertake solidarity actions to help us oppose this crackdown. We are suggesting an International Day to Defend the Egyptian Revolution on Nov 12th under the slogan “Defend the Egyptian Revolution – End Military Trials for Civilians.” Events could include:
  • Actions targeting Egyptian Embassies or Consulates demanding the release of civilians sentenced in military tribunals. If Alaa is released, demand the release of the thousands of others.
  • Actions targeting your government to end support for the Egyptian junta.
  • Demand the release of civilians sentenced to military tribunals. If Alaa is released, the thousands of others must follow.
  • Project videos about the repression we face (military trials, Maspero massacre) and our continued resistance. Email us for links.
  • Videoconferencing with activists in Egypt
  • Any creative way to show your support, and to show the Egyptian people that they have allies abroad.
If you’re organising anything or wish to, email us at  defendtherevolution@gmail.com.  We would also love to see photos and videos from any events you organize.
The Campaign to End Military Trials of Civilians
The Free Alaa Campaign
Mosireen
Comrades from Cairo

“The marginalized are always the core”: Free Alaa Abd el Fattah

Big Brother is guarding you

Posters are spreading like blotchy fungus on bare walls in Cairo and Alexandria. Smiling from them is the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi. The posters say “Egypt above all” and “The people demand stability.” They call for electing Tantawi President of the Republic.

A coalition of  “3,000 lawyers, businessmen, physicians and other professionals” boldly claims responsibility for the posters — boldly, because of course they are a terrible insult to Egypt’s armed forces. After all, the military has sworn it doesn’t want power, and that it’ll surrender it in 2011, or 2012, or 2013 … well, the dates keep changing, but the promise stays the same. Nothing could be more offensive than to suggest the generals might be induced to change their minds. Surely, then, these debauched souls will be charged with defaming the guardians of Egypt, a serious crime, and tried in military courts, and tortured, and probably their links to the Mossad, the US Embassy, and other foreign forces will be dredged up to discredit them. Already, with amazing effrontery, their antics are being praised on state TV! But surely a righteous vengeance can’t be long in coming.

Or maybe not. Justice in Egypt is a bit more selective.

In Tahrir: Alaa Abd el Fattah

Instead, military authorities arrested Alaa Abd el Fattah on October 30. Alaa, 29, is one of Egypt’s best-known revolutionary activists and bloggers.  He was accused of inciting violence against the junta –the violence being the Maspero assaults of October 9, when the military cracked down on a demonstration for Copts’ rights and killed at least 25 protesters.  (As an added insult, Mina Danial, a revolutionary activist brutally murdered in the Maspero attack, was named in Alaa’s interrogation as one of his “accomplices.”)

His real crime was that he’d publicly said the military bore full responsibility for the October 9 killings. On his way to his arrest on Sunday, he told a reporter the army “committed a massacre, a horrible crime, and now they are working on framing someone else for it … Instead of launching a proper investigation, they are sending activists to trial for saying the plain truth and that is that the army committed a crime in cold blood.”

He was ordered held for 15 days, renewable at the military’s discretion. Yesterday, his wife Manal smuggled out a letter; the Guardian prints it here. He writes of being the only political prisoner

in a cell with eight men who shouldn’t be here; poor, helpless, unjustly held – the guilty among them and the innocent. As soon as they learned I was one of the “young people of the revolution” they started to curse out the revolution and how it had failed to clean up the ministry of the interior. I spend my first two days listening to stories of torture at the hands of a police force that insists on not being reformed; that takes out its defeat on the bodies of the poor and the helpless.

Last week, Essam Atta was tortured to death in Cairo’s Tora Prison for smuggling in a sim card, to communicate similarly with the outside. In retribution, guards raped him with a running water hose. Despite the danger, Alaa Abd el Fattah insisted his letter be published.

freealaa.com

I know Alaa only very slightly. We’ve talked a few times, and I wound up standing near him at every demonstration every time I was in Egypt, perhaps because he was always the person there who most conveyed that he absolutely knew what he was doing. It would be hard to say how he conveyed it. He had the stereotyped revolutionary’s jungle of hair, but the rest of him seemed pudgily huggable and absent-minded, as if the Pillsbury Doughboy had been miscast as Trotsky. As usual, appearances deceived. Everybody, from other activists to the jailors of State Security, respected him for his courage. He was also a coalition-builder between diverse interests, and one of the few unquestioned intellectual leaders the revolution produced — someone who helped shape and articulate the image of a new society, giving substance to the dream of change. He spent time as a political prisoner under Mubarak as well; he comes from a revolutionary family, and both his parents and his sister Mona are leftist activists with international reputations.  The whole clan has been something more than a thorn in the side of authoritarian oppression — they’ve been the alligator in its bathtub, the tiger in its back yard. I had the privilege to work in the past with his father, Ahmed Seif el-Islam, a human rights lawyer whose complete and inexhaustible dedication makes him one of my heroes.

Lina Attalah wrote a moving essay about Alaa yesterday:

“The marginalized are always the core,” he said. From Christians, to tuk tuk drivers, to gay people, Alaa glorified how they challenge the status quo by denying its existence. “Now if you count the marginalized in all their forms, we are the majority, because it includes women, the poor, those who live in slums, in rural areas … That makes the mainstream a minority.” …

He sees the alliance in post-Mubarak Tahrir, where the mainstream men and women – both Christians and Muslims – of the “gentrified square” retreated, ceding the place to street sellers, gangs and what-not. Along with the remaining activists of the square, this alliance stayed on, claiming post-uprising demands at a time when many others went back home seeking “stability.” Those who slammed Alaa and his fellow activists for continuing the revolution after February were jealous, he says, because the fluidity of its identity allowed for cross-class solidarity. This keeps the revolution alive.

When Alaa recalls criticism from counter-revolutionaries, the key words are “long hair, defends thugs and gangs, gay.” He is jubilant to know that the markers of marginalization have come to define the defamation campaign against him. If this does anything, it proves him right.

It’s proper, then, that Alaa should be a symbol.  Here is a petition calling for his freedom, for full investigation of the Maspero murders, and for an end to military trials. It’s also important not to forget the other victims he symbolizes: the many dead, the 28 or more other civilians the military has detained as scapegoats for the Maspero violence (it has held no one culpable on its own side), the fully 12,000 Egyptians hauled before military tribunals since the revolution.

Maikel Nabil Sanad, whom I’ve written about here, also remains imprisoned. He was ordered retried before another military court, but has refused to appear, rejecting its legitimacy. His family demanded he receive medical care, for the hunger strike he’s been on for more than 70 days; instead, the junta has apparently moved him to a mental hospital. You can find information here on how to write to the military regime about his case. And his friends have launched a blog (in Arabic, with parts in English) publishing some of his writings in prison.

How to undermine an election

Image-conscious

Issandr el Amrani, after a visit to Tunisia, offers thoughts on how the Egyptian junta’s –and Egyptian politicians’ — handling of the transition has been so much worse:

Over time [in Tunisia], after revolutionary forces exercised concerted pressure, things stabilized: more acceptable ministers were appointed, a transition roadmap was agreed upon, and major political forces forged a consensus. At the same time, institutions of the state — old and new — maintained order and, most notably, prepared the ground for the election administratively and politically. This included months of preparations and training for election officials and putting together a remarkable get-out-the-vote campaign with the help of international election specialists…. In comparison, the way the Egyptian elections have been handled is a disaster. The authorities repeatedly ignored the desire of the vast majority of political forces for a fully proportional, list-based system. They finally offered an agreement on a system that was two-thirds list-based and one-third single-winner-based, only two months before the poll, which was only reluctantly accepted by parties. The final delimitation of districts was still uncertain as candidate registration opened, making the parties’ electoral planning difficult, to say the least.

Moreover, the SCAF [Supreme Council of the Armed Forces] has continued the Mubarak-era policy of opposing foreign monitoring missions, despite this being a widespread practice around the world. In Tunisia, thousands of international monitors did not undermine national sovereignty; they added to the credibility of a well-run process. The concession made in Egypt to the Carter Center and other missions to allow “observers” rather than “monitors” is simply not good enough; it is only by beginning their work long before the actual poll is held and having unfettered access to the organizing agencies and every step of the voting process that monitoring agencies can truly certify the legitimacy of an election. It does not help that the international community currently seems to be placing more emphasis on the elections happening then on them being credible.

Finally, the general atmosphere as the election approaches has not been one of confidence and optimism. The SCAF, through bad decisions and indecision, as well incidents involving the military, such the events of 9 October at Maspero, has been a terrible manager of Egypt’s transition. Not only has the Emergency Law been maintained on dubious grounds (do you really need extraordinary legislation to be able to prosecute looters and carjackers?) but military trials have increased exponentially, while abuses by military police remain uninvestigated. A crackdown on freedom of speech is ongoing, both against mainstream media and individual activists. On the political front, the SCAF has undermined the cabinet’s independence and authority and chosen to approach political forces in a haphazard, divide-and-rule style. …

No wonder many Egyptians are now so depressed. Seeing Tunisia’s success will only add to this glum feeling. It’s not clear that a reset button can be pressed, as desirable as this may be. The SCAF is not about to abandon power, or even appoint a more independent government. Political forces are invested in the coming elections and the clout they think they will obtain through them, even though the parliament will, in fact, have no executive power and the country will continue to be ruled by the army.

“It is against army doctrine for armored vehicles to run over human beings”

MERIP (the MIddle East Research and Information Project) has a characteristically excellent article on last week’s horrific army violence against demonstrators in Egypt. The army’s line since the attacks has grown more, not less, muddled. Initially, for instance, they claimed that soldiers had been among those killed, martyrs to a rampaging Christianity. but they’ve been unable to produce corroboration. “Many analysts therefore doubt that the army suffered any losses at all. At [their] press conference, the generals displayed fuzzy footage of a military policeman being stabbed.”

The official reaction, the author concludes, “has been consistent with state responses to attacks on non-Muslim citizens in the Mubarak era. It can be summed up in three D-words: denial, demonization of protesters and (specious) distribution of blame equally among all the parties involved.”

But some parts of the state response add an extra frisson of horror:

Before the denials, however, there were two immediate actions by the authorities as events unfolded that fateful Sunday night. The first was that the army stormed the offices of the two television stations whose personnel had managed to tape soldiers firing on the protesters, the Egyptian January 25 channel, set up by revolutionary activists, and the US-sponsored Arabic-language satellite network al-Hurra. The goal was to intimidate the stations into going off the air. …

The second action was to announce on state-run television that “Copts” had put the army itself in peril. Subtitles at the bottom of the screen read: “Urgent: The Army Is Under Attack by Copts.” The presenter called upon all “honorable citizens” to go to Maspero to help defend the soldiers. Around this time, a report was also circulated that that two officers had been martyred at Coptic hands. Viewers at home were not unmoved. Indeed, that evening, many residents of Bulaq and other nearby working-class districts armed themselves with clubs and other weapons, before heading off to Maspero to assist the army in beating up and even killing protesters. One corpse had its head split in two, clearly by a sword or another sharp instrument, not an army-issue weapon.

The NY Times today states the extremely obvious: the military junta ruling Egypt shows less and less inclination to surrender power soon.   It’s unlikely they harbor any dreams of installing a lasting, openly military dictatorship. But they want a permanent veto over civilian politics, and they want a guarantee that no future government will mess with their fantastically lucrative networks of businesses and property. (Nobody knows how much of Egypt the army owns, but $2 billion a year in “military aid” from the US, over thirty years, adds up.) They are not particularly content with the array of potential successors on hand now. They can’t stand Mohamed El Baradei — too democratic; they are not terribly fond of Amr Moussa — too diplomatic. The various factions of the Muslim Brotherhood, opportunistically putting price tags on their grandmothers in a bid to be granted a bit of power, might be their best bet, but the generals find the idea of a religious government hard to stomach. So they are playing a dangerous waiting game: holding on to authority for as long as they can, in the hopes that occasional controlled bursts of mayhem and disorder will increase the population’s longing for a strong hand.

Omar Suleiman's disappearing act: pay no attention to that man behind me

In the meantime, they’ll try to figure out whose that hand might be. When I was in Cairo in June, a friend told me of rumors that the military had been keeping Omar Suleiman in suspended animation, hoping to resurrect his moribund career and present him as an acceptable presidential candidate. Suleiman was Mubarak’s longtime intelligence head and torturer-in-chief; in the last chaotic days of the ancien regime, the desperate president named Suleiman his successor. But he was sidelined by the military takeover, forced to announce Mubarak’s resignation and then disappear into retirement. Apparently the idea of selling Suleiman was quashed; somebody persuaded the junta that his reputation was too, well, tainted to make a plausible presidentiable. But the very possibility that they considered it suggests how incapable of democratic adaptation the generals are.

Bullseye on the troops

Doctor, it hurts here

By way of Amr Bassiouny: the military regime in Egypt has trotted out a bunch of soldiers to show how they were injured by unarmed, furiously rampaging civilians Sunday.   Unfortunately, they all seem to have almost the same injury in the same place, the same arm in the same sling. Obviously those Copts have great aim!

Shock troops of the counter-revolution

“Revolutions revolutionize counter-revolutions,” Régis Debray wrote. We’re seeing this, surely, in the weird and desperate maneuvers that Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF, which sounds remarkably like a fungal disease) is making to sustain its bloody, counter-revolutionary  power.

Hosni Mubarak, back in his day, never actually used the militant political Islamists much. He would toss them the occasional concessions when troubled by other opposition (most notably, letting the Muslim Brotherhood contest and, where they contested, win the 2005 parliamentary elections).  But at no point did he call on their manpower, allow them to become a public prop for the regime, or use them as shock troops against opponents. This diffidence persisted even though the Brotherhood — of course, the most moderate of the lot, and famous for its opportunism,  as if the malleable Mitt Romney had turned in his Mormon underwear for a galabeya — regularly offered itself up for sale in the most shameless way, showing a well-turned thigh to the government’s cruising eye with the urgency of a starving streetwalker on a freezing night.  They wanted to be exploited. But no. The Mubarakites understandably could not relinquish the bad example of Sadat, who tried to win over the burgeoning Islamist groups by massive pandering in the mid-Seventies. Uncooperative and unco-optable, they killed him for his pains.

The bones Mubarak threw to the Islamists were cast over electrified barbed wire. He arrested them by the tens of thousands, tortured them, buried them in concentration camps for years. The brutality was appalling. It endeared him to the United States, but from a religious radical’s perspective, it rather stymied any prospects for a rapprochement.

Ahmed Seif el-IslamSCAF, in a far less secure position, has tried to play a double game—badly. There’s a widespread suspicion in Egypt that SCAF has tried to sell Western governments on extended army rule, and repression, as the last bulwark keeping the state secular, and the Islamists out of power. Ahmed Seif el-Islam, one of the great heroes of Egypt’s human rights movement, thundered at a meeting I attended in June: “The military want to present themselves as the guardians of security, saving us again from the Salafists, so that they can hold onto power. Such security has nothing to do with democracy.”

At the same time, for internal consumption, SCAF has struck an unmistakeable if informal alliance with the Brotherhood, which makes occasional gestures of demurral but generally is extraordinarily obedient to the military line.  This makes a certain sense: as an institution the military is enormously rich, but it has no political constituency except itself.  If a potential friendship is up for sale, why not buy? But it sits uneasily with what the army is telling the United States.

Last night’s massacre in Cairo was an act of exceptional brutality–against Copts, who have been increasingly unequivocal in voicing dissatisfaction, but by extension and example against dissent in general. The NY Times reported today:

Witnesses, victims and doctors said Monday that demonstrators were killed when military-led security forces drove armored vehicles over as many as six people and fired live ammunition into the crowds. Doctors at a Coptic hospital showed journalists 17 bodies, including one with a crushed skull and others with mangled limbs.

“Cairo yesterday was a part of Syria,” said Shady el-Ghazaly Harb, a liberal activist who helped set off the revolution, invoking the violent crackdown against that country’s uprising. “This is a threat not just to the Copts, but to all of the people. We saw what would happen if we rose up against the army.”

But one of the most ominous aspects was how the army apparently used and incited crowds of Islamists, to provoke anger and set off violence and and attack the demonstrators.   Has the army enlisted Salafists as counter-revolutionary shock troops?  An unknown number –hardly all — of political prisoners jailed under Mubarak have been released: mostly political Islamists, because those were the ones Mubarak most abused.  Freed into a confusing and unfamiliar world, traumatized by torture, given no assistance to salve re-entry, are they now easy prey for a regime that can exploit them when it needs a little frisson of violence?  Plenty of Western commentators (including a significant number of gay activists) have bought into the notion that post-revolutionary Egypt is newly prone to “extremism,” and that a strong hand is needed to keep undesireable elements suppressed. But the hand is evidently using the “extremists” to slap down others. So much for secularism; so much for the bulwark.

Attacking Copts is both monstrous and stupid on the army’s part. An influential body of US opinion, including evangelical Christians, will be outraged. Already, Nick Kristof has tweeted that the US should pull its massive military aid to Egypt.

Since the US’s energies in Egypt for the last forty years were all turned to shoring up the repression, I’ve been very reluctant to suppose it should claim a sudden progressive role for itself now.   Even Obama’s final turn against the dictator in February — which democrats in the region derided as too little, too late — struck me as too much, from another perspective.  Let the revolutionaries finish the revolution themselves; they were doing fine without him. After four decades of torture, the US was in no position to claim last-minute street cred for freedom.

But there’s that military aid — $2 billion is the usual estimate, but it’s funnelled through so many channels nobody knows.  With the military now in charge of murdering Egyptians, the aid looks increasingly obnoxious.

This is, as the Times says in Timespeak, “a turning point for the Revolution”: only no one knows where it will turn.  Right now, in the next days and weeks, the US needs to push the generals hard. Not to get them to stop siding with the Salafists and the Brotherhood — that’s not the issue. The US must insist that they hold fair elections speedily for parliament and civilian President, surrender power, step aside: so that the question of who they side with ceases to matter at all.

Deaths on the Nile: A protester’s story

Corpses from the Cairo violence: from @alaa, http://twitpic.com/6y12bc: خلص الكلام

A Coptic protester offers his story of the army inciting violence at Maspero today. Read it all. Some key parts:

I began to walk back towards Hilton Ramsis, and suddenly 5 vehicles full of CSF soldiers [Central Security Forces or Amn el-Merkazi, a paramilitary police force] showed up. People began to pelt them with rocks, destroying the wind shields, and the causing the drivers of the vehicles to panic, thereby hitting into each other and the sides of the road. I and some other people were trying to calm people down into not attacking the vehicles but the people were angry.

At that point, I was alone, and so I began to walk back to Tahrir.  … Someone saw me tweeting and came to me. He asked my name and so I said Hani Sobhi, he then grabbed my wrists to see if I had a cross tattoo, and when he did not find it, he asked for my full name. I said Hani Sobhi Bushra. He asked if I was a Muslim or a Christian, and I said that I was a Christian.

At that point he began to scream for others that he caught a Christian, and people began to gather. … At that point there was about 30 people around me, with some of them punching me on my head.  I began to walk quickly to the cordon of the police that I had just came from. …

We reached the officer (rank of general), and the first thing that I did was to show him my U.S. passport and told him that I am now under his protection. I told him that I was attacked because I was a Christian. One of the men who is a policeman but wearing civilian clothing began to talk to the general that I was a Christian and that I institigated [sic] the mob to attack me and that I am carrying weapons in my bag. … This policeman in the civilian clothing seemed to be the coordinator between the mob and the police. …

As I was talking to the general, a group of policemen were around me, one of them was behind me poking my butthole with his stick. I turned around and said that if you want to fuck me in the ass, you should be man enough to fuck me in public. At that point the policeman in civilian clothing who had earlier clashed with me called me a liar, and the general once again told him to shut up. …

I mentioned that I was a Christian being attacked by a mob, and the officers told me that I should not mention that I am a Christian because they may not be able to protect me. This was in the midst of at least 400 members of the police! At that point, I was assigned two handlers to stay with me at all times.

I stayed with the CSF units and observed the following:

1) Four bodies in the lobby of an apartment building that the Egyptian ambulances could not carry because the blood was everywhere and because some of the bodies were in pieces. When I asked my CSF companions (we had became friends) about the bodies, they told me it was three Christians and one Muslim shot by the army and driven over using a humvee (yep, my tax dollars in action, btw, the U.S. gives two billion dollars a year as aid to the Egyptian military).

2) The members of the CSF were armed with live ammunition, and the order was given in front of me.

3) One of the CSF companions told me that he beat senseless a Christian man he arrested because it was said that this man was carrying a gun and shooting the people.

4) The army and not the police were the ones attacking the protestors. In fact, the police was not doing anything.

I was there for about two hours, and then suddenly a mob came to the police saying “Christians where are you, Islam is here”. They were not stopped by anyone but cheered by army units that were parked by the CSF cordon.

I used the confusion with this mob arriving and walked away from my handlers, towards Tahrir. I reached the Kasr El Dobra church, and there I saw another Muslim mob chanting “Christians where are you, Islam is here”. What shocked me is that an army officer with a rank of Lieutenant Colonel was organizing these mobs telling them that they should be the first line of defense and they will stand behind them.