Military manhood: More arrests for homosexual conduct in Egypt

Houses made of ticky-tacky: 6 October City scene

Houses made of ticky-tacky: 6 October City scene

It would be hard to say why you’d bother to put a checkpoint in 6 October City. Stranded in the rock and sand a dozen or so kilometers west of Cairo like a very dull mirage, with only four or five roads leading out of it to anywhere else, it’s an unlikely source of trouble. As with Las Vegas – which it resembles only in that it was drawn improbably from the desert by sheer will, not however by dreamy scoundrels like Moe Green or Bugsy Siegel but by a drably determined military state – what happens there stays there. Not that anything happens. It’s one of a slew of satellite “new towns” coaxed out of lunar landscapes from the 1980s on, artificial developments to relieve the capital’s choke and congestion. Originally meant as a worker’s city, it stalled when the industries failed to congregate. Private developers bribed their way to ownership of the unoccupied tracts, then sold them cheap to members of Cairo’s middle class desperate to escape: mostly not the rich middle class who live on speculation and connections, but the sad and salaried — government clerks, mid-level NGO minions, doctors and lawyers just starting underpaid careers. The place smells of expectations that started small and still shrank. Thirty years ago its planners envisioned a city of half a million. Maybe a third of that live there, house after house gapes empty, and streets give way abruptly to shimmering desert like a slide being changed.

Nonetheless, in these months of curfew and military rule, the armored personnel carriers stand guard athwart streetcorners in 6 October, like everywhere else. The soldiers sit on the steel humps and sweat and look prickly as porcupines in the sun.

Soldier and armed personnel carrier at Cairo checkpoint

Soldier and armed personnel carrier at Cairo checkpoint

It’s unusual when any news escapes the boredom vortex that is 6 October, but it started seeping out early in the morning of November 5. I heard from a friend at around 2 AM: 46 people had been arrested at a raid on a private party, or 80, or 70, no one was sure. The numbers swung round wildly in the next 24 hours. All anybody knew was, there’d been a gathering in a “villa” — a detached house — celebrating “Love Day,” an unofficial holiday that’s a kind of Egyptian Valentine’s Day. The police came in.

Since then one friend of mine has spoken to several people who were at the party but escaped. Anther friend and colleague went with a lawyer to the niyaba — the prosecutor’s office – in Giza for the victims’ hearing on the night of November 5. He interviewed some of those arrested. Here, so far as we know, is the story.

It was a large party, perhaps more than 200 people. At 1:00 or 1:30 AM a first group of police knocked on the door – wearing civilian clothes, but carrying handguns.  They demanded to know if the party was “for money” or not; the party organizer told them it was for free. Many guests panicked and fled.

Another phalanx of police charged in, demanding to see IDs. They focused on young people and so-called “ladyboys” (my friend who spoke to guests used the term in English; it has filtered into Egyptian slang), men who look “effeminate.” They zeroed in particularly on men wearing belly-dancing dress. Three police vans waited on the street outside – indicating both that the cops planned arrests even before “investigating,” and that they looked forward to a large haul. In the end, however, they only arrested 10 people. They seized the host, a female bartender, and a man who works as a belly-dancing teacher (his wife, also at the party, was taken in as a witness). Along with them went four other men who seemed unmanly in dress or manner, and three kids under 18.  Police slapped and beat all of them, and kicked and fingered some in the ass. At the same time, the officers seemed uncertain what the guests were guilty of; the presence of women at the party especially flustered them. They called the men “khawalat” and accused them of fujur (“debauchery,” the legal term for consensual sexual relations between men) but also threatened them with charges for adultery. (Consensual adultery is not a crime in Egyptian law,)

The vans took them all to a police station in 6 October City. More beatings followed. The officers forced the “effeminate” men to clean the station toilets as punishment. .

In the early evening of November 5, all were transferred to a police station in Giza (the vast district of Cairo proper west of the Nile) and brought before the niyaba. The scene was chaos, with relatives of the accused screaming and weeping. My colleague and the lawyer he brought monitored the interrogations as best they could. Two things were obvious:

a)     The police had absolutely no evidence anything illegal happened in the villa. The only allegedly incriminating items they confiscated were belly-dancing clothes and, they claimed, women’s makeup.

b)    Nor was there evidence any of the men had committed illegal acts — especially the homosexual acts on which the investigation concentrated – in the past.

After nearly six hours, the lawyers there expected all the arrestees to be freed for lack of cause. Reportedly, the wakil niyaba (deputy prosecutor) in charge of the case was ready to order their release. However, after a phone call, the chief prosecutor of the district overruled him.

Night passage: Cairo checkpoint

Night passage: Cairo checkpoint

The complaint against the party had come from the military itself. The villa stood near a checkpoint, and the soldiers there didn’t like the noise, or the way the guests looked and acted when they passed. Military police had phoned the 6 October cops to shut the party down. The soldiers wanted the egregious villa closed permanently; for this, a legal case would be necessary. To please the military, the Giza prosecutor ordered the case kept active, and sent the victims off for forensic anal exams.

Performed without consent, these tests are abusive and torturous, devoid of any medical value. Reportedly the results “cleared” the men. (A medical finding in favor of arrestees is never final. In my experience, most reports on anal exams contain an “escape clause” saying the defendants might still be guilty: for instance, “It is scientifically known in the case of adults that sexual contact from behind in sodomy with penetration can happen  –through full consent, taking the right position, and the use of lubricants – without leaving a sign.” If so, what is the tests’ point?)  It’s not yet certain whether or how the woman in the case was tested, or indeed what her place in any potential charges might be. But meanwhile, the prosecution has ordered them all detained for an additional 15 days.

Armored personnel carriers sealing off a  Cairo road

Armored personnel carriers sealing off a Cairo road

The story has already made it to the Egyptian press, most notably in a longish article in Al- Watan al-Arabi on Sunday: “Homosexuals [mithliyeen] arrested in Egypt during the celebration of the ‘Feast of Love.'” Oddly, it alternates between using the PC, recently-invented term al-mithliyeen (derived from mithliyyu al-jins, “same sex,” constructed by analogy to “homosexual”) and an older language of “sexual perversion.” But it conflates both with sex work:

Security services received information that  a number of homosexuals [mithliyeen] organized ceremonies in a villa on the Cairo-Alexandria desert road, to practice sexual perversion on Valentine’s Day. Police raided the villa where they found, according to the official record, young people dancing with each other near the pool, and others, including minors and a dance teacher, putting makeup on their faces and their skins, with women’s underwear and wigs for dancing in their possession. …

The public prosecutor ordered the detention of suspects for 15 days pending investigation on charges of “organizing the collective exercise of acts contrary to morality [adab], and practicing sexual perversion, and  [forming] the headquarters of a business contrary to morality” …

Egyptian law criminalizes the practice of sexual perversion, and society rejects those habits and treats them with disdain, but there are places, including cafes and nightclubs in Cairo, known to be frequented by sexual perverts.

There is a “homosexuals in Egypt” page on the social networking site Facebook titled [in English] “Gays in Egypt” that has won likes from more than 11,000 people. Page members are known to be “youth of tender age, many of them still minors, roaming some streets and parks and major cities to offer sexual services to adults and the elderly for a fee. Some of the dating sites are a way to find clients.”

The article warns about mithliyeen “using social media sites to network and promote their ideas rejected by society.” It relays a question:

What drives these young people to this behavior you may deem perverted? Is it poverty? Is it a desire to earn money the easy way? Or is it more complex, associated with a sense of inferiority and the desire to get paid as a kind of compensation for a homosexual role considered insulting?

L: Good Facebook (placard from Midan Tahrir during the 2011 Revolution); R: Bad Facebook ("Facebook, Friend or Foe," book by Dr. Gamal Mokhtar on the danger of social media to Arab and Egyptian youth)

L: Good Facebook (placard from Midan Tahrir during the 2011 Revolution); R: Bad Facebook (“Facebook, Friend or Foe,” book by Dr. Gamal Mokhtar on the danger of foreign social media to Arab and Egyptian youth)

So what is happening? In El-Marg, on Cairo’s eastern verges, 14 men still languish in jail, facing charges of fujur, arrested in early October in a raid on a local gym. Do these cases presage a new crackdown, a return of horrors ten years gone, when police slunk into chatrooms and raided private homes, arresting and torturing hundreds or thousands of men to root out “sexual perversion”?

Nobody can say yet. But the talk of perverted social media, of foreign influence creeping in, of technology mating with immorality, of hangouts and watering holes that are “known” and watched, is ominous. It suggests that the relative visibility of a small LGBT community, mostly in Cairo’s downtown, is wakening anxieties.

Yet this case, like the El-Marg one, also suggests how much of this is about manhood: a complex of fears and fantasies that military rule, with its overt adulation of power and muscle, only intensifies. Why hone in on “ladyboys”? Why the prurient questions about perverts who dare to “act like men?” The same friend who went to the Giza niyaba also managed, bravely, to make his way into the El-Marg police station last month, trying to find out more about the victims detained there. It was harrowing. The El-Marg officers praised themselves for striving, during the feast of Eid el-Adha when the arrests happened, “to protect moralities of the State.” But some slight default of ideal masculinity in my friend set their alarms off — and they started menacing him:

Before answering my questions the uncertain police officer looked at me and said “Do you know that I am the one who received the complaint of the neighbors, the one that guided us to arrest the group of 14 men? …. They said the place had drug addicts and immoral acts, so we sent a task force and surprisingly they didn’t take much time till they arrested the 14 men” …

I asked the police officer to describe the club for me, so he said “It’s an ordinary health club with gymnastics equipment, steam rooms and closed massage room.” He looked at me and asked in a humiliating and sarcastic tone “Come on  … you’ve never been in one of those rooms with any one before?” …

[H]e insisted on harassing and insulting me once more by saying “You know that those who were fucked in that place used to pay, while those who used to fuck wouldn’t pay a penny, so would you like to pay or go for free?”…

I understood he didn’t want me to know if they forced the arrested men to go through anal examinations or not … “Well this whole medical test comes later after a permission from the prosecution office, but we don’t wait, we have our own vision.” The comment made me ask “What do you mean by your own vision?”, so he answered saying in a very confident tone “Like when you find someone, and sorry for my language, who only has two balls but no penis, do you think he was fucking or getting fucked? Aren’t you a man? You definitely understand.”

Being a man: Egyptian police assault protester, May 2006

Being a man: Egyptian police assault protester, May 2006

He adds, “the police officers were mocking the families of the 14 men, especially that some of the old[er] men among the 14 arrested men are married and have sons or daughters who would go to ask about them.” When they did, they were “made fun of by the police officers.” During his foray into the beast’s belly, he watched one cop take a call from another police station: the brother of one of the men had gone there, unsure where to turn, asking desperately about his arrested relative. “Fuck, so his brother is being fucked and he shows up there acting like a man … I’ll fuck him up.”

The tone’s consistent with what Khaled el-Haitamy, the El-Marg police chief, told the Egypt Independent about the gym: “The owner of the place is a son of bitch and a khawal … He fled the scene. These gays are sick!”

Black and white: Egyptian police officers joke, with Central Security anti-riot forces in the background: Reuters, 2012

Black and white: Egyptian police officers joke, with Central Security anti-riot forces in the background: Reuters, 2012

This morning, Alaa al-Aswany, Egypt’s bestselling novelist, has his debut column in the New York Times. It’s a barely-qualified defense of military rule, with all the usual cliches: in a showdown with the evil Morsi, “the army sided with the will of the Egyptian people.” (No mention of how the army massacred Egyptian people at Mohamed Mahmoud, or Rabaa). Al-Aswany’s magnum opus, The Yacoubian Building, famously called State-sponsored masculinity into public question: not only through a sympathetic gay character, but through another protagonist, Taha el-Shazli, a desperately poor boy who joins an Islamist rebel group in shame and rage, after policemen brutally rape him in a station cell. These days, Al-Aswany sides with the police.

It’s to be expected, maybe. That official, militarized manhood is inescapable. 6 October City, with its stunted mediocrity, still bears its imprint. It’s named (like other sites around the country) for the one great triumph of Egypt’s armed forces, the stunning crossing of the Suez Canal on the first day of the 1973 war. It was wrested from the desert by the the military-ruled State: indeed, its 1981 foundation — and the decision to push Cairo’s margins into the encircling sand — came along with new laws on the ownership of desert land. These formalized government control over empty spaces, and ensured that developing any of the patrimony would require buying influence with the security bureaucracy. The laws helped set in literal concrete many of the crony networks that rule the State today. The powers that be built the artificial city; no coincidence, then, that their values insinuate themselves into its interstices. They’re enforced at its checkpoints, just as they were forced onto Taha el-Shazli’s body.

The idea of November 4 as “Love Day,” by the way, comes from the late Egyptian journalist Mustafa Amin — who also promoted Mother’s Day in the country. Once, some forty years ago, he watched a desolate funeral trundle down the street with no one attending or walking behind. He wondered about the silence of loveless lives, and the moldlike spread of solitude, and suddenly he had the notion of a day to celebrate human connection. The problem with official masculinity is how many people it shuts out: the inadequate, superfluous, unloved. The more the checkpoints multiply, the more unwanted there are.

Soldiers set up barbed wire at a Cairo checkpoint

Soldiers set up barbed wire at a Cairo checkpoint

General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as you have never seen him before

The General is a man of destiny: Sisi (R, played by Romy Schneider) comforts the nation in its hour of distress

The General is a man of destiny: Sisi (R, played by Romy Schneider) comforts the nation in its hour of distress

Moving to Hungary not long after the revolutions of 1989, I spent my first few days in Budapest (hampered by my total incomprehension of the language) looking for evidence of gay life. Late one night, on a scarred and ill-lit street near Oktogon Square, I saw a lavender sign over a doorway: Sissi Panzió. I was stunned: Sissies? Pansies? Surely a slur ironically recuperated, the way my compadres back in the States were busily reclaiming queer. The formidable door was bolted. I resolved to come back and investigate this outpost of gender dissidence at a more amicable hour. Only on checking a dictionary did I find, first, that Panzió meant pension, and, second, that Sissi, far from an insult to Magyar masculinity, was the nickname of Empress Elizabeth, wife of Franz Josef, the penultimate monarch of the House of Habsburg.

The General is remembered: Statue of Sisi in Slovakia

The General will be remembered: Statue of Sisi in Slovakia

Even under Communism, Hungarians revered the memory of Sissi — also spelt Sisi. Unlike the other resolutely German Habsburgs, she’d learned Hungarian during her reign, endearing herself to her subjects. She also had an appealingly awful life: horrible mother-in-law, indifferent husband, suicidal son, an eventual death at the hands of a murderous anarchist on the lakefront in Geneva. Estranged from ordinary affection, she adored public adulation as she adored her own beauty; she ordered her ambassadors to report on whether any women in other countries rivalled her own charms. Her posthumous cult took the tinge of narcissism in her personality, and ran with it. Sisi’s glamorous tale, frozen in statues and reproduced in film, is ubiquitous in Hungary. 

The General in uniform: "The Sisi Cult," an exhibit in Hungary

The General in uniform: “The Sisi Cult,” an exhibit in Hungary

But I never quite understood her. Not till I came to Egypt! Not, in fact, till I read this article in Al-Ahram, the flagship of the State press. It’s a fascinating description of the military ruler, General Sisi — also spelt Sissi.

It’s clear now that in his magnanimous modesty, his self-effacing love of being loved, his mysterious bond with the people, and his romantic rise, Sisi is no ordinary dictator. Surely his name (which in Modern Standard Arabic, I’m told, means “pony” or “young rat”) is not a coincidence. Great souls stretch across boundaries of time and culture. I’m convinced this Sisi is the other one reincarnated.

A hero, big and small: SIsi poster (L), Sisi sweets (R)

A hero, big and small: Sisi poster (L), Sisi sweets (R)

You run into Sisi (the male version) everywhere these days in Cairo — portraits of him are de rigeur in shopwindows, stare down on avenues from banners, and even deck little chocolates like Hershey’s Propaganda Kisses. This too resembles Hungary and Austria, where titles like “Sisi’s Dream of Love” or “The Tragedy of Sisi” jam the bookshelves; three films in which she’s played by the equally tragic Romy Schneider (dead of an overdose at 43) spool endlessly on late-night TV.

L: The General (on the right, played by Romy Schneider) embraces the nation; R: Lubna Abdel Aziz, in I am Free, evinces fear of freedom

Sisi on film: L: The General (with hair down, played by Romy Schneider) embraces the nation; R: Lubna Abdel Aziz, in I am Free, demonstrates fear of freedom

I don’t know who wrote the op-ed below. The alleged author, “Lubna Abdel Aziz,” bears the name of an actress in her 70s, who most recently appeared in the TV adaption of the Yacoubian Building (unlike the feature film, that version demurely dropped the gay sub-story). She’s also famous for starring in several Nasser-era films where women struggle against patriarchal values, one with the very un-Sisi-esque title Ana Horra: “I am free.” How uncool! Could it be she wants to make amends for that old deviation, by showing the General how very unfree she — like the rest of Egypt — can be? Or could she have a higher ambition? Maybe she dreams of imitating Romy Schneider, by playing General Sisi herself in the inevitable movie?

Here goes: from Al-Ahram, September 17. It’s hard to believe, but yes, it’s real.

Catch the Al-Sisi mania by Lubna Abdel Aziz

The General is a looker: "Sisi, the Secret Beauty Formula of an Empress"

The General is a looker: “Sisi, the Secret Beauty Formula of an Empress”

He stands straight and tall, impeccably attired and starched from head to toe. His freshly washed countenance and youthful zeal shield a Herculean strength and nerves of steel. He wears the feathers of a dove but has the piercing eyes of a hawk. During our thousand days of darkness, dozens of potential leaders pranced and boasted, to no avail. The leader of the people should combine a love of country, a deep faith in God and the desire to serve the nation’s will.

Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s name lit up the darkness. He was called upon at a supreme moment in history; a kind of mysterious rendezvous with destiny. He was a hero like no other! He aroused attention without exhausting it. Nothing that touched the common run of mortals made any impression on him. All in all, he is but a common man, with an almost aristocratic aura of a nobleman. Composed and cool, Al-Sisi is everyman’s man, with a sort of serene majesty on his brow. He is the chosen leader of the people because he is willing to be their servant.

Let the deaf, dumb and blind media and governments of the West say what they will, Al-Sisi submitted to the will of 33 million Egyptians in the street and 50 million in their homes, crying for salvation. The people led — Al-Sisi followed.

The General's moment of truth: "SIsi: Year of Destiny for an Empress"

The General’s moment of truth: “Sisi: Year of Destiny for an Empress”

What the West cannot comprehend is the warm affinity between people and army in Egypt, which has endured for centuries. Gamal Abdel-Nasser is a recent example, even when he ruled with the firm grip of a military dictator.

Whatever else is going on in the rest of this vast universe, this much is certain — Al-Sisi has captured the imagination of all Egyptians, if not all the world.

He popped out of nowhere — almost — and his secret ingredient was hope. Napoleon Bonaparte once said “a leader deals with hope”, and the brand of hope that Al-Sisi deals, breathed new life into our withering, perishing dreams.

Sharing our dreams: The General (played by Romy Schneider) settles into sleep by counting murdered members of the Muslim Brotherhood

Sharing our dreams: The General (played by Romy Schneider) settles into sleep by counting dead members of the Muslim Brotherhood

Are heroes born, made or chosen? Perhaps, all of the above. William Shakespeare believed, “some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.” Our hero may be the latter, for he sought nothing, yet emerged unexpectedly, admired and beloved, and in full army regalia, smoothly assumed the role he was born for.

The General takes what's thrust upon him: Sisi (played by Romy Schneider) accepts power from a grateful people

What was thrust upon him: The General (played by Romy Schneider) accepts power from a grateful people

In the full vigour of his prime, he exudes a magic charm, afforded to a select few.  His physical appearance — and appearance counts — is flawless. He wears the emblems of his rank on his shoulders as he does the legends of his ancient land, with gushing pride. But it is the swelling reservoir of love for his Egypt and his God that sealed the deal. We responded to this love a million times over. Therefore, for those who raise an eyebrow at the portraits, flags, pins, pictures, chocolates, cups and other forms of Al-Sisi mania that fill the streets of Egypt, it is only a fraction of the love and appreciation we feel for this strong yet modest, soft-spoken, sincere and compassionate leader. It is Kismet.

The General's got charisma: L, German book cover ( "Unique, Beloved, Unforgotten"); R, Hungarian fashion show (with Princess Di)

The General’s got charisma: L, German book cover ( “Unique, Beloved, Unforgotten”); R, Hungarian fashion show ad (with Princess Di)

Shy and reserved, Al-Sisi is a man of few words and much action. We know little about the private life of Colonel General Abdel-Fattah Saad Hussein Al-Sisi, except that he is married with three sons and one daughter and he believes that is all we need to know.

The General is cultured: "Sisi, the Modern Woman"

The General is cultured: “Sisi, the Modern Woman”

He was born on 19 November 1954, to the right kind of father, in the right kind of district — Al-Gammaliya — right in the heart of the bustling city of middle-class Cairo. This is what gives him that sharp perspective into the hearts of his people, their pains, their aims, their wishes, their dreams. His father Hassan, an amiable accomplished artisan owns a shop in Cairo’s legendary Bazaar, Khan Al-Khalili, where he displays his craftsmanship of intricate inlay of mother-of-pearl and rosewood. Cultured and well-read, he owns a huge library filled with history books, and socialised with famous writers, poets, musicians, and theologians. Al-Sisi is one of seven children, four boys — a judge, a doctor, a businessman and an army general. All three daughters are married.

According to his brothers, Al-Sisi developed a love of books from their father. He was the one who saw the most and said the least. Even as a boy, they called him “the General”. There was little doubt he would join the army and make it his career, and what a distinguished career it has been. He studied in the UK in the General Command in 1977, and attended their Staff course in 1992. He spent a year in the US at the War College in Pennsylvania and became the youngest member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

The General from girl to grownup: Volumes from Sisi's life story

The General from girl to grownup: Volumes from Sisi’s life story, suitable for children

He took over as defence minister in 2012, but by 30 June 2013, there was no doubt in his mind that he would do what is right. He responded to the 33 million voices clamouring in the streets. Yes, the Eagle had landed.

His bronzed, gold skin, as gold as the sun’s rays, hides a keen, analytical fire within. He challenges the world not with bellows and bravura but with a soft, sombre reproach, with an audible timbre of compassion.

The General's inner life: L, "Sisi's Dream of Love"; R, "Sisi's Secret Love"

The General’s inner life: L, “Sisi’s Dream of Love”; R, “Sisi’s Secret Love”

There is almost poetry in his leadership, but the ardour of the sun is in his veins. He will lead us to victory and never renounce the struggle, and we will be right there at his side.

The General is ready for his closeup: Sisi, with enigmatic expression, faces the future

The General is ready for his closeup: Sisi, an enigma as always, faces the future

(Thanks for Liam Stack of the New York Times for pointing out the article, and hunting down that young rat or pony.)

Orwell on the Nile: Citizens and lepers

Sout al-Umma, August 17: "Egypt is all Sisi"

Sawt el-Umma, August 18: “Egypt is all Sisi”

Cairo lurched to life Sunday, looking ghastly, like Dick Cheney rising up cadaverous and pale each time the Secret Service shocks his heart back into beating. Shop shutters creaked up, taxis raced rabbity and skittish on the underpopulated streets, clouds of auto exhaust mushroomed skyward in the heat.

The Muslim Brotherhood called for two demonstrations against the military regime, but cancelled them at the last minute. We went to Maadi, past the planned destination of one march. An armored personnel carrier, gun rampant, blocked the gates of the Supreme Constitutional Court building, a stone monstrosity patterned vaguely on Abu Simbel. They guarded what everybody knows is empty as a raided tomb: There’s no constitution inside.

In front of the Constitutional Court: From El-Youm El-Saaba

In front of the Constitutional Court: From El-Youm El-Saaba

Early in the morning, troops raided hundreds of homes across the country, arresting Brotherhood members. So one aspect of the Mubarak years is back: the knock on the door.  By evening, the government affirmed that its security forces killed at least 36 prisoners in its custody. The official line was that “terrorists” attacked a detainee convoy near Abu Zaabal, north of Cairo, and the victims died in the shoot-out. Anonymous authorities told the press, though, that one truckful of prisoners had managed to capture a guard. The victims suffocated when other guards fired massive rounds of tear gas into the crammed, barred van.

The corpses are collected in a makeshift morgue at Abu Zaabal. For an insight into the country now, Google “Egypt” and “makeshift morgue”: over 80,000 results. Can’t this be turned to account? Perhaps it’s an opportunity for the architectural profession, always both servant and reflection of Egypt’s national ideologies.  Hundreds of unemployed architects drift wistfully round disused construction sites as the economy erodes, and like the rest of the proverbial Arab Street, they could easily defect to Extremism and Terror. Rather than just shooting them, which is tempting, why not set them to work building prefab makeshift morgues, for transport to massacre sites as needed? A variety of styles could be drawn upon to suit the victims (neo-Pharaonic for Nasserists, the International Style for secular liberals, Moorish revival for Islamists). Who would want to repose like this –

Bodies piled in Al-Fateh Mosque, Midan Ramsis, Cairo, August 16: From @ossamaelmahdy

The chaos of murder: Bodies piled in Al-Fateh Mosque, Midan Ramsis, Cairo, August 16. From @ossamaelmahdy

— when this could be the placid scene of their forensic dissection, a quiet haven for the State to decide and then dissemble the responsibility for their death?

Postmodern charnel house; Leon City Morgue, by Jorge Badi

Postmodern charnel house: Leon City Morgue, by Jorge Badi

But that’s for the future. Today the Cabinet contemplates a ban on the Muslim Brotherhood. General Sisi (who remarked that “We are cautious about every drop of Egyptian blood”) told the Brotherhood in a press conference yesterday that “There is room for all.” Apparently the morgues are not yet full.

Generalissimo-worship goes on. Sawt el-Umma, one of the most reliable anti-Brotherhood papers, published the photo at top on its cover yesterday: “Egypt is all Sisi.”

Voice of the Nation: Sisi speaks

Voice of the Nation: Sisi speaks

That picture illuminates on so many levels. First about Sisi, who sells himself as an Egyptian Everyman. Something about him allows everybody to read exactly what they want into that round bland visage, so average in every way except the sinister Ray-Bans. When Morsi made him Minister of Defense, rumor fingered him (so, probably, did Morsi) as the Muslim Brotherhood’s man in the military. Now, those ties betrayed, he stresses his US education, his Western connections. But mostly his odd counter-charisma (he’s been known to reduce audiences to tears with vapid patriotic arias) consists in being Chance the Gardener, sublimely like everybody else and a repository of what they want to hear. We will fight terrorists, but there is room for everybody. Calm will come, we just need to kill your enemies first. At an hour of division, when people are being written (or shot) out of the body politic like lepers, here he is with a new, comforting definition of citizenship. You’re a true Egyptian, everybody can be Egyptian, as long as you are simply me.

And it illuminates citizenship. Cairo is not a city of citizens. Citizenship is intimately tied to anomie, the loss or gradual eschewal of traditional ties – village, tribe, family – – that leaves one isolated yet free, lonely but autonomous, one’s identity up for one’s own shaping in collaboration with an abstract polis, an imagined community that sets the borders to your dreams. You derive meaning from the nation when other meanings wither; you become a member of the State when there is not much else to be a member of.  We are not governed by our parents but the City, Pericles told Athenians: “Fear is our chief safeguard, teaching us to obey the magistrates and the laws.” This has never been Cairo, where nobody fears the laws and magistrates – prevailing attitudes go from active contempt to anarchic disregard – but many feel devout reliance on old hierarchies and loyalties, habits and genealogies, traditional patterns of life.  

Each neighborhood is its own world, composed not of abstract Egyptians but of daughters, cousins, fathers, clients, patrons, protectors. In shaabi (popular) Cairo, Asef Bayat writes, people turn to “local leaders (kibar, shaykhs, Friday prayer leaders), problem solvers, and even local bullies” when facing life’s dilemmas, rather than to the recourses of modernity, the law and the NGOs. This is the charm and terror of Third World cities, by which I mean contemporary cities from Lagos and Jakarta to large parts of London and New York. They are not “modern.” They are in-between. The rapid changes of migration and uprooting don’t transform residents into citizens, but mean they carry their traditional worlds with them into exile, on their backs. The beauty of this urban life comes from the tension between the microcosms it encompasses. You live in a village in a city of 18 million. Each day you leave it for a time, to pass into a modernity that is sometimes promiscuously fascinating, sometimes fearful, sometimes arid and unbreathable, sometimes just confusing. Those are the times when you go downtown, to visit the Mugamma or meet the Man. Then you return to your quarters, which make up the rest of the city, where nobody is a citizen and certainly nobody is Sisi, where a different and entangled definition of the self prevails.

Armed civilians patrol the upscale Zamalek area of Cairo last week: © Manoocher Deghati

Armed civilians patrol the upscale Zamalek area of Cairo last week: © Manoocher Deghati

In violence or crisis, the city breaks up. Whatever reliance on the State most people felt slips away, like a frail undergarment irrelevant when armor is needed.  Each neighborhood starts sealing itself off. Patrols guard the perimeters; alleys become borders. Modernity starts shriveling up like a dying spider. Its rites and pleasures, the evenings in the downtown café, the casual conversations, the days of consorting with strangers, wither. The pretense of equalities, the promise of a wider belonging, is inaccessible now.

It’s nice enough for the regime for a while – they want people terrified. In the end, though, the military are always modernizers. They want a state full of citizens, visible and submissive, regimented in orderly lines – just like the picture says.  Come out of hiding; come out, wherever you are! (Already yesterday, Sisi banned the “popular security committees,” struggling to bring the neighborhoods back under police control.) The cafes and conversations of course will have to go. But something even bigger will replace them. Bathed in the warm and public light of State surveillance, a shared and happy fate awaits you: You can be Sisi!

Discipline and bakshish: A face in the crowd

Discipline and publish:  John Malkovich? Or Foucault?

The thing is, and it’s not widely recognized: The Muslim Brotherhood were modernizers too. They also had no use for traditional loyalties, local hierarchies, closed ways of life. They wanted people out in the open, detached from their older ties, only ranged and regimented not by State power but under the august aegis of Islam. Their diehard supporters were and are middle-class professionals trained in secular expertise — doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers — who felt ill-used and under-salaried by a government indifferent to their skills. They hoped that religion’s promise of equality would bring more material fruits than the blandishments of socialism and structural adjustment. The Ikhwan was impatient with the lifeways of Cairo’s poorer neighborhoods and shaabi quarters, except as recipients of charity, expected to drag their denizens out to vote in return. Those places lacked the streamlined purity the Islamists demanded of a reformed and purpose-driven life. The Brothers are Puritan modernists and architects, building a kind of Bauhaus of the soul.  The junta and its Western apologists try to present the battle as between modern, secular rationalists with heavy weaponry, and sinister Islamist adherents of superannuated tradition trying to “turn back the clock.” But it’s not. It’s a battle between two modernities to seize State power. The local and particular, the diverse and unexpected, will all get crowded out.

Sawt el-Umma is not very smart. They stole the template for their cover from an American TV show, pasting Sisi’s pictures on. Twitter quickly caught on:

Sisism and narSisiism: Egypt is all George Costanza

Sisism and narSisism: Egypt is all George Costanza

So many ironies, I lose count. Of course, the more Sisi imagines an Egypt where everyone is the same, the more he produces a multiplication of neuroses: not nearly as nice as those of Larry David ensconced in Beverly Hills, though. They’ll be paranoid fears, malevolent and murderous. Those who don’t want to be Sisi will be (just like the people who didn’t want to be the Brotherhood’s ideal Muslims) un-Egyptian, non-citizens, lepers. The regime sounds more and more Big Brother-like in identifying its enemies. The “Egypt Fights Terrorism” banner that permanently glimmers in the corner of State TV’s screens insinuates itself in people’s dreams.

Are you Sisi? If not, why?

Are you Sisi? If not, why?

Crowds fed on State propaganda have attacked both Egyptian and foreign correspondents in recent days. An Egyptian-American reporter Tweeted yesterday that, at Ramsis Square, a “cop urged men around me to beat me up. ‘She is an American!'” And so the State Information Service issued a bizarre set of guidelines to foreign journalists on covering the unrest in approved fashion. “Egypt is feeling severe bitterness towards some Western media coverage that is biased to the Muslim Brotherhood,” it complained. “Some media sources are still falling short of describing the events of June 30 as an expression of a popular will.” And “Several media sources are seeking to focus on Western political stances that are adopting an approach different from the Egyptian one.” Thus, in the new Orwellian environment, Minitrue sets the message of the day. Even non-Egyptians need to be Sisi.

Sheikh Sayed, 88, blind and a Hansen's disease patient, a resident of Abu Zaabal for 63 years: © Claudia Wiens, 2009

Sheikh Sayed, 88, blind and a Hansen’s disease patient, a resident of Abu Zaabal for 63 years: © Claudia Wiens, 2009

In a village up near Abu Zaabal, where security forces slaughtered their prisoners yesterday, there is a secret place hardly any Egyptian knows about: a leper colony. Claudia Wiens photographed it beautifully back in 2009, when about 750 patients were still confined there, with several thousand cured lepers, unable or unwilling to return home, in surrounding areas. There is, as she shows, a loveliness to their life and their community so far from public knowledge, even if the medieval fear that kept them segregated there is hideous. I was thinking of them yesterday as the news of the prison convoy deaths came in: after I’d watched Sisi, and the foreign minister Nabil Fahmy, oleaginously defend all the bloodshed on TV. “Egypt Fights Terrorism” stayed unmoving over the talking heads. Egypt is making more lepers. In Abu Zaabal, they are counting the corpses from yesterday’s killings, and disputes over the numbers already drown out the question of how, and why, they died.

Corpse of a prisoner in a makeshift morgue at Abu Zaabal, August 17: From @ossamaelmahdy

Corpse of a prisoner in a makeshift morgue at Abu Zaabal, August 17: From @ossamaelmahdy


 

Bradley Manning, Bayard Rustin, and the perversion of Pride

Can I join?

Can I join?

That eminent critic and activist Edward Said was given, from time to time, to quoting Hugh of St. Victor, a twelfth-century mystic:

The person who finds his homeland sweet is a tender beginner; he to whom every soil is as his native one is already strong; but he is perfect to whom the entire world is as a foreign place. The tender soul has fixed his love on one spot in the world; the strong person has extended his love to all places; the perfect man has extinguished his.

Said was, of course, a terrorist, and that is just how terrorists think. “Mystic” is another word for “fundamentalist”; and praising foreigners and rootless people? You’re siding with disloyalists, Luftmenschen, cosmopolitans, Jews! (I mean Muslims, sorry.)  In these confusing days when any displaced or misplaced or misprinted person could be a mad bomber — Saudi nationals, Moroccan high school students, dead Brown University undergrads, or citizens of the Czech Republic — it is imperative to find a refuge from the roiling chaos of mistaken identities, to settle on the facts you know when you don’t know anything about the folks around you, and to REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE. Fortunately the gays are good at this. Decades of practicing identity politics have left them secure in their own labels. The heroism of role models like Michael Lucas and J. Edgar Hoover has taught gays to be grateful to anybody who gives them a promotion. Thank you, Barack, thank you, Hillary, for handing us our rights!  We love you forever!  This is our country, and no one can take it from us, and please bomb all those places that are foreign as much as you damn well like!

Michael Lucas, gay role model and former head of the FBI, prepares to waterboard a suspect

Michael Lucas, gay role model and former head of the FBI, prepares to waterboard a suspect

I was reminded of our queer community’s collective patriotism by fast-moving happenings last night in San Francisco. To summarize: SF Pride held a vote and Bradley Manning — the gay or trans (it’s not entirely clear how Manning identifies) soldier who disseminated the great Wikileaks trove of secret US documents — was elected a Grand Marshal of this year’s shindig, which will happen in late June. There are a bunch of Grand Marshals every year, and each one gets to ride in a car during the long parade, wave at the crowd, and accept adulation. In Manning’s case,the soldier was in no position to do the accepting. Manning is under lock and key at Fort Leavenworth, facing charges including “aiding the enemy,” which under the military code can carry the death penalty.  Daniel Ellsberg, the great whistleblowing opponent of the Vietnam War, agreed to join the festivities in Manning’s place.

J. Edgar Hoover, porn star and gay icon, gets ready for his cum shot: They hate us for his freedoms

J. Edgar Hoover, porn star and gay icon, gets ready for his cum shot: They hate us for his freedoms

No need; within hours the board of SF Pride stepped in and rescinded the honor. Lisa Williams, the board president, issued a statement. “I am against honoring Bradley Manning,” she said, “as he was a traitor to the good old United States of America. If we all had felt the way he did back in the Forties, Hitler would have ruled the world.”

Soldiering on: Lisa Williams, board president, SF Pride

Soldiering on: Lisa Williams, board president, SF Pride

Oh … I’m sorry again. It’s early in the AM where I am, and I haven’t had coffee, and I keep screwing up. What Lisa Williams actually said was just about the same, but with slightly different wording. From her statement: 

Bradley Manning will not be a grand marshal in this year’s San Francisco Pride celebration. His nomination was a mistake and should never have been allowed to happen. … [E]ven the hint of support for actions which placed in harms way the lives of our men and women in uniform — and countless others, military and civilian alike — will not be tolerated by the leadership of San Francisco Pride. It is, and would be, an insult to every one, gay and straight, who has ever served in the military of this country.

I get confused, you see, because Lisa Williams — in addition to being “president and owner of One Source Consulting, a firm which does political consulting, ” and the former “Northern California deputy political director for the ‘No on 8′” gay-marriage campaign — is also the chair of the political action committee of the Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition. That’s an estimable group that tries to promote black LGBT political participation in the Bay Area. And the quote above, the one about Hitler and the traitor — well, it was actually about Bayard Rustin; so you can see how I mixed them up. Rustin, if you remember, was one of the great figures of 20th-century America: a pacifist, a war resister, an icon of civil disobedience, and the key organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. (Also a gay man). Rustin spent three years in Lewisburg Penitentiary as a conscientious objector during the Second World War.  The quote (slightly tweaked) came from a citizen of West Chester, PA, back in 2002, who objected to naming a school after Bayard Rustin. After all, the traitor broke US law, encouraged others to do likewise, and opposed the military and domestic policies of the United States.

Interesting, then, that Lisa Williams works for the Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition. Because her story shows that you can honor somebody like Rustin– indeed, even serve an organization named after him! — without caring or sharing what he believed in. Since that’s true, there’s really no reason SF Pride shouldn’t honor Bradley Manning.

But Pride is not a protest march, Mr. Rustin. These days we have nothing to protest.

But Pride is not a protest march, Mr. Rustin. These days we have nothing to protest.

I don’t mean to imply that Bradley Manning is Bayard Rustin redivivus, or in any sense his spiritual or political heir. In fact, we know remarkably little about Manning, and a cloud of speculation, much of it absurd, still surrounds his motives. Even that pronoun “his” is questionable. (Speculation persists, supported by chats Manning apparently had with an inquisitive hacker, that she identifies as a trans woman and that advocates and attorneys are suppressing this fact: perhaps to preserve Manning’s “respectability” for the trial. In an attempt to respect the uncertainty, I alternate pronouns.)  The fact that Manning’s been held incommunicado allows everyone to project whatever politics, priorities, or fantasies they like on the mute figure. For homophobes, Manning is a disgruntled and untrustworthy gay man, a living argument for ask, tell, and expel queers from the armed forces. For military interventionists like Dan Choi and Peter Tatchell, he’s an emblem of the kind of inclusive army they’d like, one where all your government secrets will be safe if the officers just welcome the homos with open, loaded arms.

We do know that brutal treatment has been inflicted on Manning while in US military jails. The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture — denied an unmonitored meeting with Manning to investigate his well-being — warned the government that “imposing seriously punitive conditions of detention on someone who has not been found guilty of any crime is a violation of his right to physical and psychological integrity as well as of his presumption of innocence.”  And the Rapporteur, Juan Mendez, a distinguished human rights activist from Argentina who was himself tortured under the US-supported miitary dictatorship, told the press:

I conclude that the 11 months under conditions of solitary confinement (regardless of the name given to his regime by the prison authorities) constitutes at a minimum cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of article 16 of the convention against torture. If the effects in regards to pain and suffering inflicted on Manning were more severe, they could constitute torture.

Of course, that’s the UN for you: a gang of Communists. Good American gays reject it and all its works and pomps. The UN, writes young neocon and would-be gay mercenary Jamie Kirchick in our favorite gay news source The Advocate, is “more often than not an actively pernicious force in world politics.” (Kirchick loyally tweets about Manning as “traitor Bradley Manning,” because, after all, who needs a trial?)

Advertisements for my elf: Young Kirchick promotes his twittery on treason

Advertisements for my elf: Young Kirchick promotes own published typing, misspells “Marshal”

Why exactly was this UN fellow Juan Mendez tortured? you well might ask. There’s no smoke without fire; you don’t pull out people’s fingernails unless there’s something under them you want; you don’t torture people unless they were asking for it. Surely he was a Communist, which explains why the UN hired him. Really, how can you appoint a torture victim to investigate torture? How can he be objective? And these UN bigots always defend those gays in foreign lands who don’t appreciate the United States; they never give the US credit for how well it treats gays here. How dare the sissies diss us!

Juan Mendez, tortureworthy pro-treason opponent of enhanced interrogation methods working for the Communist International: not a gay role model

Juan Mendez, tortureworthy pro-treason opponent of enhanced interrogation methods working for the Communist International: Not a gay role model

Now, in some other, more sensitively disposed polities, evidence that a suspect was tortured would give occasion to drop the charges. Not so in the United States, which has acquired an admirably stoical attitude toward inhuman treatment!  In this, though, one detects what perhaps is the root of Manning’s own difference with his country’s policy. Manning didn’t like torture. Irrationally, he didn’t like it even before he was tortured. He didn’t like his country’s complicity in torture; he didn’t like the abuses and crimes that the US committed and encouraged in its occupation of Iraq. And he saw enough of that first hand.

It was from Iraq that Manning sent materials to WikiLeaks, and in Iraq she was arrested. Kevin Gosztola writes — and it’s worth quoting at length:

In 2010, while stationed at Forward Operating Base Hammer in Baghdad, Pfc. Bradley Manning decided to approach a superior officer in his chain of command to voice his concern about something he had stumbled upon in his capacity as an intelligence analyst. His unit had been helping Iraqi federal police identify suspects for detention and discovered that fifteen men had been arrested for producing “anti-Iraqi literature.” … Manning discovered that the writing was hardly criminal; it was a “scholarly critique” of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But his superior officer did not want to hear about it. Manning knew if he continued to assist the police in identifying political opponents, innocent people would be jailed, likely tortured, and “not seen again for a very long time, if ever,” as he told a military courtroom in Fort Meade, MD … Hoping to expose what was happening ahead of the Iraq parliamentary election, on March 7, 2010, Manning shared the information with WikiLeaks….

Since his arrest, the media has focused on Manning’s mental problems, his poor relationships with family members, his sexual orientation, and the fact that he considered becoming a woman. Such a caricature, of an unstable youth rather than of a soldier with a conscience, has enabled the government and other detractors to maintain that Manning had no clear and legitimate motives when disclosing the information.

Bradley Manning

Bradley Manning

But in fact Manning’s first statement in court offered a clear account of what led her to the leaks. She

included an explanation for why he released the video that would be titled “Collateral Murder” by WikiLeaks, and which revealed an aerial attack on media workers and Iraqi civilians, including children. Manning said: “The most alarming aspect of the video to me was the seemingly delightful bloodlust they appeared to have,” Manning said. “They dehumanized the individuals they were engaging and seemed to not value human life by referring to them as quote ‘dead bastards’ unquote and congratulating each other on the ability to kill in large numbers.” …

Of the cache of over 250,000 US State Embassy cables, Manning said: “The more I read, the more I was fascinated by the way that we dealt with other nations and organizations. I also began to think that the documented backdoor deals and seemingly criminal activity didn’t seem characteristic of the de facto leader of the free world.”

Here, at least, Manning distinctly does share something with Bayard Rustin.  For Rustin, at his best, fought US rights abuses at home and abroad. He was no less an internationalist than Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. John D’Emilio, his brilliant biographer, describes how his rejection of US warmongering led to repeated confrontations with the law:

At the height of the Cold War, when sirens blared, all Americans were supposed to duck for cover. Rustin and a few other comrades said, “This is insane,” and they sat instead in City Hall Park in New York. Indicted and found guilty, they did it again, and again, until many thousands of Americans followed their lead. Rustin organized protests against nuclear weapons in the Nevada desert, the south Pacific, and the Sahara. Soon, the nuclear powers abandoned atmospheric testing.

You may be right, Mr. Rustin. But we can teach democracy by invading other countries and killing people. Can't we?

You may be right, Mr. Rustin. But we can teach democracy by invading other countries and killing their population. Can’t we?

During the Vietnam War, Rustin protested in terms almost exactly applicable to the US’s current exercises in humanitarian killing. He called it

a useless, destructive, disgusting war …We must be on the side of revolutionary democracy. And, in addition to all the other arguments for a negotiated peace in Vietnam, there is this one: that it is immoral, impractical, un-political, and unrealistic for this nation to identify itself with a regime which does not have the confidence of its people … I say to the President: America cannot be the policeman of this globe!

Well, it can still try.

Rustin urged that those who rejected the US’s domestic and foreign criminality wield a variety of tools and strategies: “Non-violent strike, economic boycott, picketing, non-payment of taxes, mass emigration, noncooperation, and civil disobedience.” Whistleblowing wasn’t on the list, but there was no Internet and no WikiLeaks in his day.

And for all this, of course, Rustin was called a “traitor,” and still is, by the Jamie Kirchicks of his time, and ours. I have no idea how he’d feel about Bradley Manning. But I have a fair idea how, as a civil rights activist, a war resister, an anti-miliitarist, and a gay man, he’d feel  if he read the rants of Manning’s opponents. For instance, “Stephen Peters, president of American Military Partners Association,”a brand new non-profit of unknown provenance, declared: 

Manning’s blatant disregard for the safety of our service members and the security of our nation should not be praised … No community of such a strong and resilient people should be represented by the treacherous acts that define Bradley Manning.

The “strong and resilient people” are apparently Pride’s attendees, whose resilience has not been tested by torture, but nonetheless is surely there. Meanwhile, Sean Sala, an LGBT Military Activist, wrote (with free, Germanic use of capitalization):

Bradley Manning is currently in Military tribunal for handing over Secret United States information to Wikileaks’ Julian Assange. … San Francisco has spit in the face of LGBT Military by using a traitor to our country as a poster child. … Manning makes Gay military, the Armed Forces and cause of equality look like a sham. He deserves no recognition … This is a sensitive time for the LGBT Community, we have spent fifty years trying to garnish equality and Manning cannot and will not represent Gay Military patriots.

They said the same kinds of things about Bayard Rustin.

Kiss me, honey, those big guns turn me on

Kiss me, honey, those big guns turn me on

SF Pride’s decision, of course, shows what gays value in the course of “garnishing equality,” at this self-congratulatory, triumphant, but still above all “sensitive” time.  Equality doesn’t just mean the right to marry, or the right to wear a form-fitting and extremely attractive uniform. It’s not just symbolic. It’s both privilege and responsibility, and don’t you forget it. It means equal and uncomplaining participation in the full panoply of the United States’ domestic injustices and imperial extravagances. It means an equal right to repress, in redress and revenge for all that history of enduring repression.  It means you no longer have to lobby the government for anything; your only job is to lie back and endorse whatever it does. It means that you can rest in the serene knowledge that other people are being tortured, and you won’t object, because torture is a great equalizer, a silent democracy of abasement. It means that you finally get to be one of the killers, instead of the killed.

One weirdness of SF Pride’s swift retraction is that they claim to be defending some kind of superior democratic process, against a dictatorial “systemic failure” related to how we let actual people influence our nonprofits. Board president Williams declares that

what these events have revealed is a system whereby a less-than-handful of people may decide who represents the LGBT community’s highest aspirations as grand marshals for SF Pride. This is a systemic failure that now has become apparent and will be rectified. In point of fact, less than 15 people actually cast votes for Bradley Manning. These 15 people are part of what is called the SF Pride Electoral College, comprised of former SF Pride Grand Marshals. However, as an organization with a responsibility to serve the broader community, SF Pride repudiates this vote. The Board of Directors for SF Pride never voted to support this nomination.

Americans bringing democracy to Iraq

Americans bringing democracy to Baghdad

This is a very bizarre conception of democracy — not, in fact, unlike the one the US imported to Iraq. The system SF Pride has followed so far allows the general public to vote for a slate of Grand Marshal nominees, while an “electoral college” of previous Grand Marshals has the right to choose a few more. It seems that the electoral college chose Manning; but even if he got only 15 votes, that’s rather more than the Board of Directors could provide, since it has only 9 members in total. “Less than a handful” indeed! Moreover, the Board of Directors elects itself. It may feel a “responsibility to serve the broader community,” but it doesn’t let the community choose its members. Meanwhile, that “electoral college” mostly includes ex-Grand-Marshals who were picked in the public vote; it’s more democratic than the Board.  So SF Pride proposes to close itself down still more, retreat into its Green Zone, and become still more a model of corporate governance, insulated from the desires or decisions of the people it asserts it “serves.”  This is a rather perverted vision of community. On the other hand, Paul Bremer would probably feel happy on the Board.

I’m not in the US now; I’m sitting in Egypt, writing early in the morning. I feel I’ve become one of those imperfect people, not yet alien to all places, but alien to my ever-less-comprehensible native land. I certainly feel alien to whatever SF Pride represents these days: a sorting of people into the loyal and disloyal, the us (the US) and them, that stands at odds with the evanescent but putatively redemptive values of which queers and other rebels were once able to be proud. Plenty of immensely “strong and resilient people” in two hemispheres of alienation have memories of US overt or covert interventions:  Cubans and Nicaraguans, Dominicans and Haitians, Guatemalans and Iranians, Afghans and Iraqis. Apparently that resilience isn’t the sort that counts; or it’s eminently forgettable amid the fogs of San Francisco Bay. We remember our own kind, not the sufferings of others.

I’m afraid that the gay movement in my country, if it still moves at all, has aged into the matronly complacency that John Betjeman once described, as he imagined a respectable English lady offering a prayer in Westminster Abbey during the Second World War:

Gracious Lord, oh bomb the Germans,
Spare their women for Thy Sake,
And if that is not too easy
We will pardon Thy Mistake.
But, gracious Lord, whate’er shall be,
Don’t let anyone bomb me.

This is what democracy looks like

This is what democracy looks like

More video from Egypt

If you speak Arabic, go to the ONtveg channel on Youtube. (ONtv is a new, independent, liberal TV channel in Egypt.) In the long clips just posted, popular host Yosri Fouda is grilling the Central Security Forces (Amn el-Merkazi) officer who was in charge of the brutal attacks on protesters on Mohamed Mahmoud Street today. “Didn’t you think that one day you would be held accountable?” As bad as things are in Egypt right now, you realize a confrontation like this would have been unthinkable a year ago.

If you don’t speak Arabic: three gripping clips from Al Jazeera English. A summary of the violence on Mohamed Mahmoud Street today, explaining how it’s become the front line in this second stage of the revolution: 

Rawya Rageh has a longer, more detailed report on police violence in Alexandria: 

And a rundown of some of the amateur footage of police brutality that Egyptians have been capturing on cellphones and cameras. In one scene, a Central Security officer’s colleagues applaud him for shooting into a protester’s eyes. 

Egypt: Separated at death

Separated at death: Mummy and Big Daddy

Tantawi spoke on TV. He agreed to hold Presidential elections by July 2012. Al-Arabiya says:

Egypt’s Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi said the ruling military council is ready to hold a referendum on immediate transfer of power to a civilian administration and vowed that the planned Nov. 28 elections would go ahead as planned.
Tantawi said the army was “completely ready to hand over responsibility immediately, and to return to its original mission of protecting the nation if the nation wants that, via a popular referendum, if need be.” … But the concessions were immediately rejected by tens of thousands of protesters in Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square threatening a “Second revolution.”

Abdulrahman al-Zaghimy, in the collation of youth revolution, told Al Arabiya that Tantawi’s speech came too late, adding that the protesters would continue their sit-in at Tahrir Square until the departure of the military council.

The Guardian adds:

[I]n scenes reminiscent of the street violence that pushed former President Hosni Mubarak from power, protesters in Cairo’s famous Tahrir Square vowed not to leave until Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and his council of generals immediately gave up power to a civilian transitional authority.

The protesters chanted: “We are not leaving, [Tantawi] leaves,” and, “The people want to bring down the field marshal.”

The forthright refusal of the generals’ offer stirred memories of the response to Mubarak’s attempts, played out over three national speeches, to hang on to to power earlier this year.

What next?

@ShadiHamid: “If protesters reject these concessions, little doubt in my mind they’re going to lose most of support they have.”

@Sandmonkey: “Spoke to many people outside #tahrir , the majority liked the #tantawispeech. Just an fyi.”

@Beleidy: “The referendum for the continuation of SCAF will be held tonight and every night in #Tahrir. How many people will stay in the square?”

@Arabist: “#tantawispeech, or, The Mummy Returns. They need to start a public speaking class at the Egyptian Military Academy.”

Me: If they want to put on a friendly face, why doesn’t the junta call off violence against the protesters? They’re still firing tear gas canisters near the AUC (American University of Cairo) — @Lilianwagdy: “shit frantic pounding in mohammad mahmoud st.”

I’m packing. How many socks to take? How many gas masks?

Egypt: Updates from the new revolution

Fine, I have my tickets. I’m leaving for Cairo on Saturday, and will blog on anything I see there. In the meantime:

Video from @Arabist.

At least 100,000 people are in Tahrir now. People report a jubilant mood, but there seem to be a lot of clashes between demonstrators and Central Security police east of the Square, around the American University of Cairo and Midan Falaki. @IaninEgypt: “Mohamed Mahmoud street looks apocalyptic. There are fires everywhere, sirens, smashing glass and gun shots.” My friend @LiamStack of the New York Times says that the Bab el-Louk souk, the old covered food market in Falaki across from the fabled Cafe Horeya, was set afire by tear gas canisters and has been burning.

In Suez, cradle of the Revolution, Al-Ahram reports swelling demonstrations in Arbaeen Square. The April 6 Youth Movement also says there are protests in a growing number of cities around the country, including ,Beni-Soueif, Al-Sharqiya, Al-Wadi Al-Gadid, and Qena.

My guess is that the story of SCAF handing power to the Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court is just a rumor, based on the fact that the CJ is returning to Cairo from abroad — a sensible thing to do in a crisis like this under any circumstances.  However, Al-Ahram also gives this account of a meeting between a political front and the generals:

18:00 Political figures and representatives have finished their meeting with General Sami Anan, Army chief of Staff and member of the SCAF. Chairman of Al-Wasat Party, Abu El-Ela Mady, told Al Hayat TV channel that they reached the following:

– Holding presidential elections on 30 June 2012 while parliamentary elections will stay on schedule.

– Allowing freedom of protest and sit-ins.

– An immediate release of the detainees arrested since last Saturday.

– Forming a new “national salvation” unity government.

– The SCAF has no problem in having a referendum on whether the Army should return to their baracks or not.

Al-Jazeera has pretty much the same story, also from the Al-Wasat party.  (Al-Wasat is a Iiberal splinter from the Muslim Brotherhood.) I love that “has no problem,” though. You want us to leave? Hey, we’re cool with that!  Do you mind if we shoot a few of you first, though, man? Just for old time’s sake.

Liam’s take on this:  “SCAF & Muslim Brotherhood cut a deal for new ‘technocratic’ cabinet & power transfer in June, SCAF remains in executive role.”  Tantawi is apparently going to speak to the nation soon to announce this. “National salvation!”  The father provides for your future.

Will this pass muster with the crowd in Tahrir? Sample tweets:

@basemfathy: “ONE DEMAND from Egypt’s squares, #SCAF should hand the power now, This is non-negotiable.”

@TheBigPharaoh: “I don’t think #tahrir will accept SCAF’s concessions. Tahrir wants to do to SCAF what it did to Mubarak.”

@lilianwagdy: “the only response for any #tantawispeech for me would be my shoe thrown at his ugly face.”

If you haven’t been in Egypt lately, I can’t describe to you how deeply the revolutionaries feel about the uniqueness and precarious loveliness of the experience of both diversity and solidarity in Tahrir.  @omar_safa: “The beauty of #Tahrir : All segments of society, MB, Salafi, Liberal, Secular, Undecided, working together not as parties, but as #Egyptians.”  (If the Muslim Brotherhood have, as usual, sold out, you might subtract the MB from that list.) And @monasosh — Alaa Abd el Fattah‘s sister — tweets: “Nothing more beautiful than this”; and sends this picture, about half an hour ago: 

Now I have to go shopping. Some of my Egyptian friends, now in Tahrir, asked me to bring thong underwear. 

The military and modernity

Red states

In his brilliant history of the US war in Vietnam, which I’ve been reading desultorily, Gabriel Kolko writes:

By early 1963 … W. W. Rostow had initiated discussions among Washington planners of the military’s role in the Third World, bringing the then fashionable military “modernization theory” to the executive’s attention. In effect, he argued, the reliance on civil authorities in the Third World after 1945 had been an error. The military establishments were far better transmitters of Western values and the most promising modernizers of the traditional orders. And because the United States controlled aid to them as well as direct training, Rostow urged much greater exploitation of these levers to advance US interests. Its “benevolent authoritarianism” would both create national unity and hold power in trust for the less competent civilians. … In Indonesia or Vietnam there were few options to a reliance on the military; the idea was then, as it is today, quite respectable among decision makers.

Kolko wrote this in 1985, at the Reagan administration’s height. But when you look at the regimes the US supports now in places like Egypt or Uganda, one has to wonder how differently the decision makers imagine “modernity” today.