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.

In Cairo: “a powerful incapacitating gas”

"Dr. Rania": reportedly "suffocated to death by invisible gas while volunteering at Tahrir Hospital",

I eat my words. The Guardian reports “strong evidence that at least two other crowd control gases have been used on demonstrators in addition to CS gas.” (CS gas or 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile is the commonest form of tear gas, developed in the 50s and 60s.)

Suspicion has fallen on two other agents: CN gas, which was the crowd control gas used by the US before CS was brought into use; and CR gas.

Some protesters report having seen canisters marked with the letters “CR” – although the Guardian has not been able to confirm this independently.

Both gases can be more dangerous than CS and can cause unconsciousness and seizures in certain circumstances.

Concern began to emerge over the use of more powerful incapacitating agents after reports of gassed protesters falling unconscious and having attacks of jerking spasms.

Those who have experienced the more powerful gas have described it as smelling different and causing an unusual burning sensation on the skin. Others have complained of rashes.

On Tuesday afternoon al-Jazeera reported that some of the recent deaths in Cairo were believed to have been caused by gas asphyxiation.

Read the entire story. Since nobody knows for certain what the gas might be, nobody knows about possible effects, or about antidotes. People are trying atropine, which can be highly dangerous taken without medical supervision. Even the rumor itself is incapacitating.

@SarahCarr offers a contradictory view: “Neurologist in hosp said unusual reactions cld be caused by 1. Exp to huge amounts 2. Date of production 3. Expired gas.”

Regardless, the military are clearly trying ruthlessly to gas the protests into submission. @LiamStack says: “Downtown Cairo has been gassed for 5 consecutive days. The smell of tear gas is everywhere. Every time you kick up dust, you smell tear gas.” @Beleidy calls it “The Battle of Gas.”

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 junta steps down?

Tantawi: it shouldn't be so hard to say goodbye

Tahrir News in Cairo just reported (link in Arabic) that the junta in Cairo is ready to hand power over to the head of the Constitutional Court. Field Marshal Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, is rumored to be about to make an announcement today.

It should be noted that  Counsellor Farouk Sultan Ahmed Mekki, Head of the Supreme Constitutional Court, returned from Istanbul today on board Turkish Airlines.


No confirmation yet from anybody.

لا للمحاكمات العسكرية للمدنيين No Military Trials for Civilians

A video giving voice to victims and opponents of the military courts Egypt’s junta uses to try civilians, stacked tribunals that repress both dissidents and the poor. Go to (Arabic and English) to learn more.