From Egypt: Blindness and balloting

I got off the plane in Cairo late Saturday night, and the second person I spoke to was my friend Nada, who came to pick me up.   She told me how she was arrested on Mohamed Mahmoud Street, near Midan Tahrir, last Sunday, November 20. Central Security forces held her in detention for just over eighteen hours; 30 officers joined in torturing her, including with electroshock. I’ll be doing a fuller interview with her on Tuesday. For Arabic readers, her story, as taken down by the Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, is here.

Nada's right arm after torture: @Nadeem Center

Monday, November 28, is the first round of parliamentary elections organized by the military regime. The junta has announced they will go forward. despite protesters’ insistence that a civilian government conduct them; despite the puppet cabinet’s resignation last week; and despite a call from the Supreme Electoral Commission (every government body in Egypt is called “Supreme” that possibly can be) to postpone them.  Google (one of whose local executives, Wael Ghonim, became the face of the January revolution) has greeted the occasion with an encouraging doodle:

These elections are brought to you, apparently, by the letter “e.” For what? Euphoria? Elation? Endlessness? Whatever it stands for, it’s not “easy.”

The voting system the military set up is designed to mystify. Three stages of balloting will happen before mid-January, each covering nine governorates: actually, six stages, since each will be followed a week later by a run-off. Two-thirds of the seats will be filled by proportional representation, with winners chosen from party lists; for the rest, you vote for individual “independent” candidates (they may, of course, have party affiliations, but don’t run under them). Each voter must choose one party list and two independent candidates; ballots with fewer marks are invalid.  The individual candidates are classified as “professionals” or “workers-farmers”  – although anyone can vote for either — a bizarre practice dating to the Nasser regime.

Confused? If you’re Egyptian, you’re meant to be. 8,627 individual candidates are running for 266 seats in both houses of Parliament.  590 separate parties compete for 332 seats in the lower house. I recall monitoring elections in Romania in 1992, with a welter of parties blotching the ballot, each represented by its own symbol — one rose, two roses, a tractor wheel, a plow … An illiterate woman approached me at the polling place weeping: “I see the pictures,” she said, “but what am I supposed to do?”

I'm the cool candidate: from @azelhakim on Twitter

For some candidates, commodities suggest success. This one’s’s horcrux is an air conditioner; and Ben Wedeman (@bencnn) reports one whose symbol is a blender.

The big debate today is whether one should participate at all. Sceptics include the distinguished human rights activist, my friend Aida Seif el-Dawla; you can hear her here (in Arabic) arguing that elections overseen by murderous generals lack all legitimacy, and that a powerless Parliament unable to act against the junta only complicates Egypt’s politics, when clarity and real democracy are needed. @Nellyali reminds everyone how the army treats dissent: “12,000 Egyptians will not be voting tomorrow. They’re on military trials.”

It’s hard not to disagree with political scientist Andrew Reynold’s analysis in the New York Times last week: In the individual-constituency voting,

name recognition gives established power brokers — local strongmen who held sway before the revolution — the upper hand. Even if most of the elected candidates are not high-ranking apparatchiks of the old regime — or “remnants,” as Egyptians call them — many are likely to have been cogs in the corrupt machine that ruled Egypt for decades.

And the list-voting system favors parties with tested organizations — mainly the Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing — and may “marginalize new progressive, secular and liberal groups that lack grass-roots networks across the country.”

There are plenty of reports of corruption. Photos circulate on Twitter of what purport to be boxes of unmarked, or pre-marked, ballots left suspiciously on streetcorners and other places.  The voter lists are chaotic, and many people don’t know where their ballot station is.   One Egyptian (@TheMiinz) tweeted, “A friend entered his deceased grandpa’s ID number and his name is among the vote[r]s.”

By contrast, @Dima_Khatib writes, “Use every thing at hand to fight dictatorship, including ballot boxes when they are there!” Blogger and activist Amr el Beleidy makes the case for voting:

What we have seen during the last 10 months is that things change every day. Each actor wants their own self interest, and they’re playing the game to get as much of it as possible. SCAF [the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces] wants to retain as much power to protect its members and keep as much of the status quo as possible, the MB [Muslim Brotherhood] want as much political control as possible, the liberals want… and so on. .. There is nothing that’s set in stone. And once parliament is formed there is no saying what its powers will be and what it will do, although this will be largely affected by its make-up.

Tomorrow you have a chance to change the future by helping decide what the make up of this new player will be. And this will change the whole game afterwards. What I can tell you is that the more people you are in favour of get into parliament, the more likely things will go your way. So go out there and vote for the people you want.

After parliament is set, the game continues, and we’ll have to use all other tools of political leverage, like protest, sit-ins, the media, etc.. to move the country towards the path we see best fit. The elections are but a small part of the chess board, and we shouldn’t leave it for others to use it against us.

I spent this evening with a couple of friends arguing out the options, and I still have no opinion. What do you do when an authoritarian regime offers a dribble of democracy? Reject it as the polluted fake it is, or take it and try to turn the taps for more?  If the elections proceed without truly massive evidence of fraud, and particularly if the Muslim Brotherhood (now the junta’s best friends) win, the generals will claim vindication. It will be that much more difficult for democratic activists to contest the voting’s legitimacy, but it may be that much more necessary as the army cements control. Egypt is going blind into these elections, with most voters sure neither of what their choices mean, of what the regime is actually offering, or of what kind of future is possible or likely.

The one certain thing is that, however the results tally, the generals will meet dissent with brutality. Already on Sunday, Field Marshal Tantawi, the military ruler, proclaimed: ”We will not allow troublemakers to meddle in these elections.”

Ahmed Harara before losing his left eye

Where Wael Ghonim, the clean-cut, earnest, middle-class Google professional, became the symbol of the January revolution, the activist icon of these clouded days is Ahmad Harara. Harara lost his right eye to security forces’ fire ten months ago. On November 19, he returned to Tahrir to protest: police shot out his other one. “I would rather be blind, but live with dignity and with my head held up high,” he was quoted as saying. Graffiti of him multiplies round Cairo. A new analysis by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights suggests that this time round, “security forces deliberately fired birdshot pellets and rubber bullets in the direction of demonstrators’ bodies. This use of force was intended to injure demonstrators rather than to disperse them.” The military ordered its enforcers to aim for the eyes:

Kasr el-Aini hospital alone received 60 cases of eye injuries between the 19th November and the morning of the 27th November … eye injuries varied between burst corneas, burst eye sockets and foreign bodies in different parts of the eye.

The generals want a docile or, failing that, disabled public. Protesters in Tahrir, who already knew this, yesterday hoisted a banner over Mohamed Mahmoud Street, scene of the worst violence, renaming it: “The Street of Freedom Eyes.”

"Street of Freedom Eyes": from @mmbilal on Twitter

Egypt: “Freedom isn’t for free”

love me, squeeze me, take me to prison, beat me

L: Mona Eltahawy after her release, with broken left arm and right hand; R: Maged Butter, bandaged after his release. Maged tweets that he and 28 other detainees were freed this morning. He says, “I’ll write my testmony about what happened exactly but later on when my fingers r recovered, typing is so hard. … although I was freed this morning, many ppl r still detained. please keep the pressure on to get them out.” He also adds: “الحريه مش ببلاش :)” — “Freedom isn’t for free.”

In other news: SCAF announced they are appointing Kamal el-Gazoury prime minister of their “National Salvation” government. Gazoury was a relatively popular premier under Mubarak from 1996-99. He is 78 years old.

Meanwhile, the army has put up a wall across Mohamed Mahmoud Street to keep protesters out and protect the Ministry of Interior. This is allegedly video taken from across the wall, showing soldiers and Muslim Brothers amicably consorting together. “Behind the wall, the Ikhwan and the army are one hand.”

Apparently the Brothers are also policing the area. @GSquare86 says, “The MB is strongly present at Mohamed Mahmoud preventing anyone but them from entering.”

One interesting note: @MartinChulov reports, “Army captain Omar Matwali just defected in #Tahrir Sq. Says he’s backing retired Gen Magdi Hatata to lead new gov council.”

Egypt updates

Shari'a Talaat Harb, Nov. 20: Tienanmen II

Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has an alternate identity as an emotionally volatile fourteen-year old, sending contradictory SMSes and veering wildly between appeals and imprecations on its Facebook page. In this capacity, it posted an apology on Facebook, offering its

“regrets and deep apologies for the deaths of martyrs from among Egypt’s loyal sons during the recent events in Tahrir Square. The Council also offers its condolences to the families of the martyrs across Egypt.”

Fine. Now stop shooting at them.

SCAF also held a bizarre press conference today, making clear that it would surrender power only on its own schedule. In a ludicrously transparent lie, one general claimed that the army hasn’t entered Tahrir Square since August — a falsehood video evidence immediately exposedBikya Masr reports:

General Hamdy Shahin affirmed that the [November 28] elections would proceed on time. … [Abdel Moezz Ibrahim, head of the Higher Electoral Committee] said that external monitoring of the elections was unnecessary. The Egyptians, he said, were of age and capable of monitoring their own affairs. …

General Mukhtar Al-Molla said that decades of corruption could not be erased in a month. He insisted on SCAF’s commitment to human rights, which he said were inviolable in all cases. The armed forces were not making any exceptions to them.

Molla said that the army had no desire to remain in power, a position which he said was a burden rather than a blessing. But if they withdrew immediately, he said, it would be a betrayal of the people. …  Shahin also claimed that the political parties often served only their own individual interests, whereas the army was concerned with the nation’s interests as a whole.

Molla defended the army’s role in the ongoing protests in Cairo, saying that those present in Tahrir did not represent Egypt, but their point of view had to be respected. Most of the demands of the demonstrators were reasonable, he said, and SCAF was working to implement them.

In the meantime, please stop shooting at them.

Feminist journalist Mona Eltahawy and dissident activist and Twitterer Maged Butter were both arrested last night and freed after several hours. Eltahawy says she was sexually abused in detention by half a dozen policemen who  “groped, prodded my breasts, [and] grabbed my genital area.”  Maged  is a committed young man whom I know from a trip I joined to visit revolutionaries in Suez this past July. Here are photos of him before and after:

Meanwhile, since activists have called for a “million-man” protest against SCAF after tomorrow’s prayers, the Muslim Brotherhood, now completely in the military’s pocket, responded by urging people to go out and demonstrate … for Al-Aqsa mosque in Palestine! “The issues of national security — and especially Palestine and Jerusalem — cannot tolerate delay,” their online statement reads.  @AbirKopty tweets: “I’m Palestinian & I’m against the #Egypt Muslim brotherhood rally tmrw for #Aqsa mosque. stop using #Palestine.”

The crowd in Tahrir remains large. A friend I spoke to by phone, though, says that the smell of tear gas won’t wash from the air. There is a temporary truce along Mohamed Mahmoud Street, leading to the Ministry of the Interior: that has been the front line of battles between demonstrators and Central Security (Amn al-Merkazi) forces for days. Last night there were serious clashes, though. AJE says:

Ambulances raced back from Mohamed Mahmoud Street and other frontline battles south and east of the square throughout the night, ferrying dozens of protesters suffering from tear-gas inhalation.

Fighting also resumed in other cities. In Alexandria, Egypt’s second-largest city, clashes erupted for another night along a street near the main security directorate.

“Interior ministry forces are out of control … they’re not being professional and they’re not being controlled by the military council,” Rebab el-Mahdy, a politics professor at the American University in Cairo, told Al Jazeera.

Whether el-Mahdy’s second point is true is not at all clear.

Livestream of clashes: Video from Mohamed Mahmoud St. in Cairo

© Hossam el-Hamalawy

This livestream just started. Mohamed Mahmoud, just east of Midan Tahrir, is the street that has seen some of the most intense clashes between demonstrators and police today, and some of the worst violence. also has a post with video from the street — “the front line.”  @NoraYounis just tweeted, “Mohamed Mahmoud must be renamed to #martyrstreet,” adding: “And rebels should install metal barriers like they used to during #Jan25.”

Other news from Twitter: my friend @LiamStack says, “morgue officials &doctors at biggest hospital said monday #egypt used live ammo on protesters. at least 23 dead btwn sunday&monday, more now.”

There have been violent battles in Alexandria and requests for medical supplies to be sent there. Even after Tantawi’s speech, the troops are still attacking protesters. AJE has riveting video of the clashes in Alex:

@Salma_Tweets says, chillingly: “Sherif Samy AbdelHamid (38 yrs) just died in #Alex in front of #MOI {Ministry of Interior} after being shot directly in the head #RIP #Egypt.”

According to @ASE, who works for Al Jazeera, Mohamed El Baradei has claimed that troops may have used nerve gas  in Tahrir. Whether or not El Baradei said this, I’d be fairly sure this is a false rumor born out of the panic of the moment.  There are a lot of nervous questions circulating on Twitter about exactly what kind of tear gas is being used, and what kind of treatment is necessary, and everyone seems on edge. It does seem clear, though, that some of the tear gas fired on the protesters comes from the US — probably directly from the US military.

It’s pretty clear also what led to Tantawi’s proposals of a referendum and a “National Salvation” government in his mummy-speech this afternoon. Just before that, the generals met for five hours or so with various political parties and figures associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood and satellites, opportunistic as ever, struck a deal.   The outlines are probably this: in exchanging for supporting Tantawi’s compromise, the Brotherhood would get the lion’s share of seats in the “Salvation” government, regardless of how they fare in the parliamentary elections (due to start on Monday).  The Brotherhood will also support the military in the proposed referendum on whether they should go back to their barracks. If the military win, they can continue to rule de facto past the date they’ve now offered for a Presidential election in mid-2012.

If that’ s all true, the demonstrators are right to reject the referendum, and there seems to be growing rage at the Brotherhood in Midan Tahrir. Whether the rest of the population is angry enough at SCAF to see through a proffered withdrawal that actually means their continued power, nobody knows.

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. 

“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.

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.