A Little Birdie Told Me

December 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

birdIt’s no secret that social-networking sites, like Facebook and Twitter, have changed the political landscape of the Middle East forever. However, it’s the latter that has really been a welcome surprise to the global social activist movement. Who would have ever considered that a mere 140 characters would be enough space to give someone a voice? It took only 110 characters for Egyptian activist Wael Ghonim to unite his fellow Egytpians under the same rallying cry this past January when he tweeted, “I said one year ago that the Internet will change the political scene in Egypt and some friends made fun of me.”

With one single sentence, propelled into the great abyss of the Internet, Ghonim changed the course of his country’s history. The morning after the tweet he was arrested and his unlawful detention was the catalyst that drove hundreds of thousands of Egyptian protesters to overtake Tahrir Square, which eventually led to the toppling of Hosni Mubarak and his cabinet. The event was so significant that Twitter included it in its recently revealed top ten tweets list for 2011.

Egyptians were not the only people in the Middle East to benefit from the micro-blogging platform. The people of Libya, Tunisia and Bahrain have all benefited from tweets that served various purposes during the tumultuous “Arab Spring” that continues to grip the region. Twitter was painstakingly and exhaustively used to organize rallies, report abuses from the police or military and attract a global audience to witness it all. As Ghonim rightfully said upon his release from prison, “If you want to liberate a government, give them the Internet.”

The tiny Gulf state of Kuwait has recently found itself a hot topic in the “Twittersphere” as recently as this week.  Last week Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah resigned in a bid to quell protests in the oil-rich country and restore stability. Kuwait has remained primarily unscathed in the Arab Spring protests, however there is a credible sense of “waiting for the other shoe to drop” as a spattering of protests in the country have become frequent and the most recent resulted in the parliamentary building being broken into.

The anonymity of Twitter is giving those, who might otherwise be fearful of engaging in political dialogue in public, a voice. However, it remains to be seen just how ambiguous Twitter will prove to be. A handful of tweeting activists in Kuwait have been successfully soused out by authorities, following their tweets, in the past. These days, politicians in Kuwait are capitalizing on the power of Twitter to announce campaign events, issues they support and to lure voters to the polls well ahead of the impending parliamentary elections. However, only time will tell how Twitter will influence politics in Kuwait.

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Egypt Protesters Battle on to End Army Rule

November 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Patrick Werr and Alastair Macdonald

CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt’s army chief, seeking to defuse street protests that have left 37 dead, promised a swifter handover to civilian rule but failed to convince thousands of hardcore demonstrators, some of whom battled police through the night.

One man was killed in clashes early on Wednesday in the second city Alexandria, one of several towns that saw unrest.

Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who has run the ruling military council since mass protests unseated his long-time ally Hosni Mubarak in February, made a faltering televised address on Tuesday in which he promised a civilian president would be elected in June, about six months sooner than planned.

Confirming Egypt’s first free parliamentary election in decades will start on Monday, the council also accepted the resignation of the civilian prime minister and his cabinet, who had incensed democrats with a short-lived proposal that the army remain beyond civilian control under any new constitution.

But Tantawi angered many of the youthful demonstrators on Cairo’s Tahrir Square and in other cities by suggesting a referendum on whether military rule should end earlier – a move many saw as a ploy to appeal to the many Egyptians who fear further upheaval and to divide those from the young activists.

“Leave! Leave!” came the chants in Cairo and, in an echo of February’s chorus: “The people want to topple the marshal.”

Long into the night, while small groups on the fringes skirmished with police in clouds of teargas, those occupying the main square sang: “He must go! We won’t go!”

It is a battle of wills whose outcome is hard to predict.

PROTESTERS DIG IN

The field marshal, hanged in effigy on Tahrir Square in a visual echo of Mubarak’s final days, seems intent on preserving the armed forces’ vast business interests built up over six decades of effective military rule. But there was no renewal of earlier heavy-handed efforts to clear the area.

Parliamentary elections will start this coming Monday – a plan confirmed at a meeting between the army and politicians – but they will take till January to complete. It is not clear how a referendum on military rule might be organized, nor what alternative might be proposed until June’s presidential vote.

Tantawi, 76 and defense minister under Mubarak for two decades, appeared hesitant, speaking in field uniform, as he told the 80 million Egyptians his army did not want power:

“The army is ready to go back to barracks immediately if the people wish that through a popular referendum, if need be.”

Tens of thousands packed Tahrir, the seat of the revolution which ended Mubarak’s 30-year rule, from Tuesday afternoon and, though most drifted away, thousands remained camped through the night into Wednesday, while, in tense side-streets skirmishes, diehards pelted police who hit back with batons and teargas.

In Alexandria, a 38-year-old protester was killed. A Health Ministry official said the man was shot in the head during a confrontation outside a state security building.

Police have denied using live ammunition but most of the 36 dead in the preceding five days of protest have had bullet wounds, medics say. And demonstrators have shown off cartridge casings they say come from weapons used by the authorities.

“We will stay here until the field marshal leaves and a transitional council from the people takes over,” said Abdullah Galal, 28, a computer sales manager, as people set up tents across the sprawling Tahrir traffic interchange which has become the abiding symbol of this year’s “Arab Spring” revolts.

A stream of motorbikes and ambulances ferried away the injured from the skirmishing on the outskirts of the protest, while at the center of the square a mood of quiet occupation set in as blankets were brought out and small bonfires lit.

REFERENDUM SCEPTICISM

Many of the protesters saw the suggestion of a referendum, vague in its content, as a ploy to split the nation:

“He is trying to say that, despite all these people in Tahrir, they don’t represent the public,” said 32-year-old Rasha, one of dozens huddled around a radio in the nearby Cafe Riche, a venerable Cairo landmark. “He wants to pull the rug from under them and take it to a public referendum.”

A military source said Tantawi’s referendum offer would come into play “if the people reject the field marshal’s speech,” but did not explain how the popular mood would be assessed.

Tantawi may calculate that most Egyptians, unsettled by dizzying change, do not share the young protesters’ appetite for breaking from the army’s familiar embrace just yet.

For many Egyptians, trapped in a daily battle to feed themselves and their families, the political demands of some of those they view as young idealists are hard to fathom:

“I have lost track of what the demands are,” said Mohamed Sayed, 32, a store clerk in central Cairo as the capital went about its normal business before the start of what protesters had hoped might be a “million man march” on Tuesday.

“If you talk to the people in Tahrir, they have no clue,” added Sayed. “I don’t know where the country is headed. I’m worried about my life.”

On the square, however, demonstrators believed the army’s reluctance to cede power could see an escalation, as activists tried to complete what some call an “unfinished revolution”:

“All they are doing now is forcing people to escalate,” said Mohamed, 23, a financial analyst. “They are leaving. There is no question about that.

“This opens the door for instability.”

UNCERTAIN OPTIONS

When it was clear Mubarak had lost his potency, it was his former colleagues in the army who delivered the coup de grace. If it were now to be the turn of those generals themselves to have lost the legitimacy they won by easing Mubarak out with little loss of life, it is unclear who might replace them.

Some have raised the possibility of more junior officers ousting their superiors, though so far the ranks seem solid.

Using a computer analogy, protester Abdullah Galal said: “There are many viruses in the system. It needs to be cleaned out entirely. We want to delete, reformat and reinstall … We need to change the regime like they did in Tunisia and Libya.”

While the scale of protests is far short of the mass street action that ousted Mubarak, there is unrest in other cities.

In Alexandria, on the Mediterranean, protesters waved shoes in a sign of disrespect. In five days of protests in various cities, at least 1,250 people have been injured in addition to the 37 killed – a figure that includes Wednesday’s death.

The United States, which gives Egypt’s military $1.3 billion a year in aid, called for an end to the “deplorable” violence in Egypt and said elections there must go forward.

“We are deeply concerned about the violence. The violence is deplorable. We call on all sides to exercise restraint,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

The unrest has knocked Egypt’s markets. The benchmark share index has fallen 11 percent since Thursday, hitting its lowest level since March 2009. The Egyptian pound fell to its weakest against the dollar since January 2005.

Political uncertainty has gripped Egypt since Mubarak’s fall, while sectarian clashes, labor unrest, gas pipeline sabotage and a gaping absence of tourists have paralyzed the economy and prompted a widespread yearning for stability.

(Editing by Myra MacDonald)

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Lurking Dangers to the Arab Spring

August 25, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Ramzy Baroud, Gulf News

Arab revolutions are currently facing real dangers, which vacillate between lack of prioritisation, stagnation and foreign intervention.

In Egypt, there have been deliberate attempts to divide the objectives of the revolution into blurred ideological classifications. A chasm is already growing between ‘liberal’ and Islamic forces regarding the identity of the state. Endless debates have ensued regarding the best course of action pertaining to elections, the constitution and more.

The trial of former president Hosni Mubarak has been marketed as a major victory for the revolution. Undoubtedly this is a historic event with great psychological impact. Many in Egypt were suspicious that the military was trying to co-opt the revolution, and some believed that Mubarak was continuing to run the country from his Sharm Al Shaikh mansion. With the world having now seen Mubarak in prison garb, some of these rumours are being quelled.

Still, it must not be forgotten that Egypt’s problems are multi-faceted, running deep into the very fabric of its political and social structures. Its already threadbare economy was also further devastated by recent events.

Presenting Mubarak on a stretcher for ‘conspiring to kill protesters’, and then falling into the trap of disputes around political semantics will not resolve the country’s many problems.
The Yemeni people persist between clear objectives and unclear strategy. Yemen was already teetering on the brink of ‘failed state’ status before the February revolt. The opposition is clearly failing to unify the revolutionary efforts of the people. The aim has been to create a meaningful political platform capable of translating the just demands of millions into a clear roadmap.
This has no room for Ali Abdullah Saleh and his discredited government. A delay of nearly six months has allowed regional and international forces to impede the popular process aimed at democratic reforms. Frustrated by the ineptness of the opposition, and worried about the devious role played by outsiders, the ‘youth of the revolution’ moved to establish their own transitional political body.
This move seemed to create more confusion rather than actually address the challenge of political centrality. Saleh and his ruling party are feeling emboldened once again and are bargaining politically with a nearly-starved population. As for Libya, it has turned into a battlefield. Although the people’s original demands for democracy are as genuine as ever, linking the heart of the revolution to Nato’s central command has more than tainted the uprising.

It has also raised the spectre of western intervention in Libya. The billions of dollars spent to ‘liberate’ Libya will be recovered through political and economic leverages later on. This will prove very costly for any new Libyan government.

Three Principles

The Syrian revolution has been most inspiring. Despite the extremely violent behaviour of the army in its attempts to subdue the uprising, the people remain committed to three major principles: the rightful demands of their revolution, the non-violent nature of their efforts, and non-interventionism. That said, foreign intervention does not seek people’s permission; it seeks opportunities.
It is guided by a straightforward cost-benefit analysis. As for violence, even noble revolutions with noble demands have limits. How long will the Syrian people endure before resorting to arms, at least to defend themselves against the government’s thugs?

There are other Arab countries that are also experiencing their own upheavals. These are divided between betrayed revolutions (for example, Bahrain), revolutions in the making, and bashful reform movements (Jordan, Morocco, Algeria, and others).

True, each revolutionary experience remains unique. The socio-economic specificities of a wealthy Gulf country are different from those of a poverty-stricken country like Morocco. Still, Arab countries have much in common. Aside from shared histories, religions, language and a collective sense of belonging, they also share experiences of oppression, alienation, injustice and inequality.
The third UN Arab Development Report, published in 2005, surmised that in a modern Arab state, “the executive apparatus resembles a black hole which converts its surrounding social environment into a setting in which nothing moves and from which nothing escapes.”

Things didn’t fare much better for Arab states in 2009, when the fifth volume in the series claimed: “While the state is expected to guarantee human security, it has been, in several Arab countries, a source of threat undermining both international charters and national constitutional provisions.”

It is this shared fate that makes an Egyptian woman protest the violence carried out by the Syrian regime, and which drives a Tunisian man to celebrate the trial of Mubarak.

Coupled with a joint understanding of their history — which includes the struggle against colonialism and continued oppression in the neo-colonialist era — the Arab sense of solidarity is almost innate.

There is no question that in a post-revolutionary Arab world, a new collective sense of identity will emerge, this time without the manipulation of a single charismatic leader.

Revolution is a process, a progression of realisations borne out of experience. It seeks real and lasting change. It spans in its outreach from the realm of politics into the specificity of identity and self-perception. Because Arab revolutions are real, they also represent a real danger to foreign powers and their local alliances.

The self-seeking concoctions will use all their power to impede the process of change and reforms in the Arab world. This helps to explain the shedding of doubts on the authenticity of the youth movement in Egypt; the collective punishment of Yemenis; the brutalising of revolting masses in Syria.

Arab revolutionaries must be wary of all of these challenges. They must prepare for all grim possibilities. With unity being their greatest weapon, the revolutionaries need to remember that a victory in Egypt or Tunisia is an important step in the quest for freedom in Yemen, Syria — and everywhere else.

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Egypt Detains Former Minister over Pesticides

July 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

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Egypt’s former agriculture minister, Youssef Wali, arrested over charges that he allowed the import of cancer-causing pesticides. (File Photo)

CAIRO, July 10 (Reuters) – An Egyptian investigating judge ordered a former agriculture minister detained for questioning over accusations that he allowed the import of cancer-causing pesticides, the state news agency MENA reported on Sunday.

The agency said Youssef Wali, who served as agriculture minister under former President Hosni Mubarak from 1982 to 2004, was also suspected of squandering 200 million Egyptian pounds ($33.6 million) of state funds by selling a plot of land to businessman Hussein Salem for less than the market price.

MENA said Wali is accused of “bringing in 37 brands of pesticides that were proven to cause cancer”. It said the chemicals had been banned  from entering the country in 1996, but were allowed entry in 1998 under Wali until 2004.

Wali has denied the charges.

Prosecutors have been investigating business transactions of officials under Mubarak since mass protests forced him to resign on Feb. 11.

A prosecutor froze Wali’s assets in April in connection with the sale of 100,000 feddans (420 million square metres) of land to Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal in a deal which Egyptian authorities suspected had also violated the law.

Salem, a close aide to Mubarak, was arrested in Spain last month on an international warrant, suspected of squandering public funds by selling gas to Israel below market prices.

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Egypt Police & Youths Clash; Over 1,000 Hurt

June 30, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Patrick Werr and Yasmine Saleh

CAIRO (Reuters) – Police in Cairo fired tear gas on Wednesday at hundreds of stone-throwing Egyptian youths after a night of clashes that injured more than 1,000 people, the worst violence in the capital in several weeks.

Nearly five months since a popular uprising toppled long-serving authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s military rulers are struggling to keep order while a restless public is still impatient for reform.

The latest clashes began after families of people killed in the uprising that ousted Mubarak held an event in a Cairo suburb late on Tuesday in their honor.

Other bereaved relatives arrived to complain that names of their own dead were not mentioned at the ceremony. Fighting broke and moved toward the capital’s central Tahrir Square and the Interior Ministry, according to officials.

The Health Ministry said 1,036 people were injured, among them at least 40 policemen.

The ruling military council said in a statement on its Facebook page that the latest events “had no justification other than to shake Egypt’s safety and security in an organised plan that exploits the blood of the revolution’s martyrs and to sow division between the people and the security apparatus.”

Prime Minister Essam Sharaf told state TV he was monitoring developments and awaiting a full report on the clashes.

A security source quoted by the state news agency MENA said 40 people were arrested, including one U.S. and one British citizen, and were being questioned by military prosecutors.

Some said those involved were bent on battling police rather than protesting. To others, the violence seemed motivated by politics.

“The people are angry that the court cases against top officials keep getting delayed,” said Ahmed Abdel Hamid, 26, a bakery employee who was at the scene overnight, referring to senior political figures from the discredited Mubarak era.

By early afternoon, eight ambulances were in Tahrir, epicenter of the revolt that toppled Mubarak on February 11, and the police had left the square. Dozens of adolescent boys, shirts tied around their heads, blocked traffic from entering Tahrir, using stones and scrap metal.

Some drove mopeds in circles around the square making skids and angering bystanders. “Thugs, thugs… The square is controlled by thugs,” an old man chanted.

“I am here today because I heard about the violent treatment by the police of the protesters last night,” said Magdy Ibrahim, 28, an accountant at Egypt’s Banque du Caire.

Treating Wounded

The clashes unnerved Egypt’s financial market, with equity traders blaming the violence for a 2 percent fall in the benchmark EGX30 index, its biggest drop since June 2.

First-aid workers treated people mostly for inhaling tear gas in overnight violence. A Reuters correspondent saw several people with minor wounds, including some with head cuts.

Mohsen Mourad, the deputy interior minister for Cairo, said the security forces did not enter Tahrir overnight and dealt only with 150-200 people who tried to break into the Interior Ministry and threw stones, damaging cars and police vehicles.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s political party warned Egyptians that remnants of Mubarak’s rule could exploit violence to their ends. Presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei called on the ruling military council to quickly clarify the facts surrounding the violence and to take measures to halt it.

U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns, visiting Cairo, said he hoped an investigation into the clashes would be “fair and thorough.”

Young men lit car tyres in the street near the ministry on Wednesday, sending black plumes of smoke into the air.

“There is lack of information about what happened and the details are not clear. But the certain thing is that Egyptians are in a state of tension and the reason behind this is that officials are taking time to put Mubarak and officials on trial,” said political analyst Hassan Nafaa.

Sporadic clashes, some of them between Muslims and the Christian minority, have posed a challenge to a government trying to restore order after many police deserted the streets during the uprising against Mubarak. In early May, 12 people were killed and 52 wounded in sectarian clashes and the burning of a church in Cairo’s Imbaba neighborhood.

A hospital in central Cairo’s Munira neighborhood received two civilians and 41 policemen with wounds, bruises and tear gas inhalation, MENA said. All were discharged except one civilian with a bullet wound and a policeman with concussion, it said.

Former interior minister Habib al-Adli has been sentenced to jail for corruption but he and other officials are still being tried on charges related to killing protesters. Police vehicles were stoned by protesters at Sunday’s hearing.

The former president, now hospitalized, has also been charged with the killing of protesters and could face the death penalty. Mubarak’s trial starts on August 3.

(Additional reporting by Dina Zayed and Sherine El Madany; Writing by Edmund Blair and Tom Pfeiffer; Editing by Peter Graff)

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Analysis: Egypt Army May Pull Strings from Barracks

June 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Edmund Blair

CAIRO (Reuters) – Hossam el-Hamalawy is used to being in trouble with the authorities. State security hauled him in three times for his activism when Hosni Mubarak was in power. He hoped Egypt’s uprising would end such summonses. It didn’t.

He was called in again in May for questioning. But one element changed. It wasn’t internal security but an army general who wanted to question the blogger over accusations he made on television about abuses by the military police.

“We didn’t have this revolution … so that we would replace Hosni Mubarak with the military as a taboo,” said Hamalawy, insisting that the army must change its ways.

“The military institution is part of the old regime,” he said. “It will have to go through its own change in revolutionary Egypt.”

Quite what that change might look like is perhaps the biggest question facing Egyptians now.

The army has vowed to hand power to civilians, after it took control when Mubarak was ousted on February 11.

Few doubt it wants to quit the grimy world of day-to-day government but, at the same time, few expect the generals to submit to civilian command when they return to barracks.

Instead, analysts say the military is likely to slip into the political shadows, as a protector of national security — a broad brief that would allow some back-seat intervention — and rigorously guard its business interests and other privileges.

The military has after all supplied Egypt’s rulers, including former air force commander Mubarak, for six decades.

“I do feel they are sincere about handing over power to a civilian government,” said Hamalawy, who writes the arabawy.org blog. “But that does not mean they will give up … their role in the Egypt political arena.”

After summons for interrogation prompted protests, Hamalaway said the general who quizzed him on May 31 promised to examine evidence he provided of any abuses by the military police.

Such incidents, played out in public and drawing the ire of Egyptians enjoying a new-found assertiveness, can only tarnish the reputation of an army which was sky-high when troops took control of the streets from Mubarak’s widely reviled state security forces.

The army has committed to a parliamentary vote in September and presidential poll to follow.

National Security

“The Egyptian military is the institution that can hold the country together, move it forward. It is the only one,” said Kamran Bokhari, an analyst at global intelligence firm STRATFOR.

“I don’t see it relinquishing power to a very nascent, parliamentary system in which there is also a president.”

He added: “There are material interests as an institution. Their privileged status, they want to be able to retain that.

“There are genuine national security concerns.”

To achieve this, there are several models for Egypt to copy.

Close to home is Turkey, where the army was guardian of the secular constitution for decades and toppled governments when it saw that threatened. That role has been diluted with the rise of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s AK, a socially conservative party with Islamist roots and free market policies.

Further afield is Pakistan where Bokhari said there was an “unwritten rule that the top brass is involved in the decision-making or foreign policy-making process.”

Egypt could forge its own formula. Bokhari said the army may want to insert a line in the constitution that it be consulted over national security, ensuring it a seat at the top table.

The army denies having any such ambitions.

“The job of the army is specified by the current constitution and if this is to change it will be through the parliament after studies and based on the demands of the people,” one military official told Reuters.

“But so far nothing is planned to increase the powers of the army or give it new ones,” said the official, who responded to questions only on condition of anonymity.

However, Mamdouh Shaheen, a general on the military council who deals with legislative and constitutional affairs, said in comments published in May that a new constitution should give the military a special place — “some kind of insurance, so that it is not under the whim of a president.”

He also said parliament should not be allowed to question the armed forces, the newspaper reported.

Such talk has riled commentators. Writing in the same newspaper after Shaheen, Amr el-Shobaki, a columnist, dismissed the idea that army should have any “special immunity” — although he said that it should have a role in protecting Egypt’s democracy.

For now, the generals are in the public eye but the institution is not submitted to public scrutiny. Just as it was under Mubarak, the military budget is a mystery and it controls a sprawling business empire — just how big is unclear.

One Western diplomat, asked about the scale of the army’s business interests compared to the overall economy, said: “Estimates vary wildly, even as much as 40 percent, which I think is way off the mark. We just don’t know.”

Some suggest a more realistic estimate is 10-15 percent.

WINNING OVER THE PUBLIC

The army runs factories that make plastic products and other goods. The highway connecting Cairo with the Red Sea port of Ain Sokhna was built by army engineers and the toll ticket for that road has the words “Ministry of Defense” stamped on it.

To win over the public before one big protest after Mubarak was ousted, the army issued a four-page insert in a newspaper outlining its economic contribution. It listed pharmaceutical firms it owned, stadiums it built and farmland it had reclaimed.

For many in Egypt, a country of 80 million people where about two-thirds of the nation were born during Mubarak’s rule and knew no other leader, the army’s presence gives reassurance.

“We have at least three years to get back on our feet and we need to have a strong and strict establishment in power, like the armed forces, to help us achieve that,” said Saeed Saeed, in his 40s, who works at a private company.

The army has been revered by many Egyptians for its role in wars fighting former colonial powers Britain and France in the 1956 Suez crisis and Israel, notably in the 1973 war that led to peace talks and the return of the Sinai peninsula.

The army was virtually the only institution of state to survive this year’s political turmoil intact. For investors, it provides confidence as the country rebuilds.

“For continuity and to provide an element of security, then having a state institution that functions efficiently is important,” said Angus Blair of Beltone Financial, adding that there needed to be an “evolution in other institutions.”

But there are many Egyptians who have become uncomfortable with what they see as the army’s clumsy handling of government.

“I am getting a feeling that the army is not fulfilling the demands of the protesters … and I don’t like that because I agree with the revolution and all its demands,” said Mohamed Afan, an accountant.
An army-backed ban on strikes by workers drew the wrath of protesters, who accused the army of betraying their trust. There have been no obvious cases where the law was implemented.

Egyptians have rallied over what they say is the army’s tardiness in holding Mubarak to account. His trial on murder and graft charges is now set for August 3. The military insists this is a judicial matter, beyond its control.

Seeking to appease the public, generals have appeared on TV chat shows, unheard of in Mubarak’s time, to explain themselves.

Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces Egypt, once served as defense attache in Pakistan and seems to have long been aware of the pitfalls of military rule.

The U.S. ambassador wrote in a leaked 2009 cable of a remark Tantawi had made then in which he concluded that “any country where the military became engaged in ‘internal affairs’ was ‘doomed to have lots of problems’.”

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Some in Egypt See Threat After Mubarak

June 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Shaimaa Fayed and Abdel Rahman Youssef

CAIRO/ALEXANDRIA (Reuters) – Down the narrow alleyways of Cairo’s Sayidda Zeinab neighborhood, 100 men sway their heads and clap in rhythm as they invoke God’s name.

“O how you have spread benevolence,” chant the men, some dressed in ankle-length galabeya robes, to celebrate the birth of Fatima al-Zahraa, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad (s).
The men are followers of the centuries-old Azaimiya Sufi order who seek to come closer to God through mystical rites.

Some say their traditions are now threatened by Islamists elbowing for influence after the overthrow of Egypt’s veteran leader Hosni Mubarak.

Tensions have long rumbled between the country’s estimated 15 million Sufis, attached to some 80 different orders, and ultra-conservative Salafists who see Sufi practices such as the veneration of shrines as heresy.

The ousting of Mubarak in February has loosened state control over Islamist groups that he suppressed using an emergency law in place since 1980.

As Sufis seek to defend traditions dating back centuries, what began as a loose religious identity could be gelling, gradually, into a political movement.

“If the Sufis stood side by side, they could be an important voting bloc … but their political and organizational power is less than their numerical power,” said political analyst Nabil Abdel Fattah.

Alaa Abul Azaim, sheikh of the Azaimiya Sufi order, says moves by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi groups to enter formal politics endanger religious tolerance and oblige Sufis to do the same.

“If the Salafists or Muslim Brotherhood rise to power, they could well cancel the Sufi sheikhdom, so there has to be a party for Sufis,” Abul Azaim said.

Sledgehammers

Shrines dedicated to saints are central to Sufi practice and can be found in towns and villages across Egypt, but they are frowned upon by Salafists.

Many are built inside mosques and contain the tombs of saints. They are often highly decorated, using wood and mother-of-pearl.

Some religious conservatives also dislike Sufi moulids — festivals celebrating the birthdays of saints that have become carnival-like events popular even among non-Sufis in Egypt.
Moulid music has found its way into pop culture, such as the well-known puppet operetta “El Leila El Kebira” (The Big Night).

Fears for the future of Sufi traditions were underlined in April, when two dozen Islamists wielding crowbars and sledgehammers tried to smash a shrine used by Sufis in the town of Qalyoub north of Cairo. Their plan failed when residents rallied to defend the site revered for generations.

Salafist leaders denied their followers were behind the shrine attack and condemned it, while making it clear that they oppose the shrines.

“The Salafi call does not reject Sufism,” said Sheikh Abdel Moneim el-Shahat, official spokesperson for the Salafi movement in Alexandria. “We reject (the practice of) receiving blessings from tombs and shrines because it is against Sharia law.”

He said Salafis believe religious blessings can only be sought from the Black Stone of the Kaaba in the Saudi city of Mecca. Millions of Muslims circle the stone during the Hajj pilgrimage.

No Sufi Party Yet

Egypt’s constitution forbids political parties formed on overtly religious lines. That has not stopped Salafist groups such as al-Gama’a al-Islamiya and the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood moving to create parties to compete in September elections.

No overtly Sufi party has emerged — adepts of Sufism, with their emphasis on personal development and inner purification, have till now seen little sense in forming a political movement.
But one nascent party, al-Tahrir (Liberation), has pledged to defend their interests and, by doing so, has built most of its membership from among the Sufi community.
“There is no doubt that the (Islamist) flood that’s coming … scares them,” said the party’s founder Ibrahim Zahran.

Affirmative political action would mark a departure for Egypt’s Sufis, who have tended to submit to the will of Egypt’s political leaders since the 12th century.
“From Sultan Saladin al-Ayubi until Mubarak, Sufism was used by the state to reinforce its legitimacy,” said sociologist Ammar Aly Hassan.

In a sign they are more ready to challenge authority, sheikhs of 13 Sufi orders have staged a sit-in since May 1 calling for the removal of Sheikh Abdel Hadi el-Qasabi, the head of the Sufi Sheikhdom who was appointed by Mubarak in 2009.

They say Qasabi broke a tradition of ordaining the eldest sheikh to the position and they refuse to have him as their leader as he was a member of Mubarak’s disbanded National Democratic Party.
Many Sufis oppose the idea of an Islamic state promoted by Islamists who take the Iran’s theocracy or the Wahhabi ideology of staunchly conservative Saudi Arabia as a model.
Sufi Sheikh Gaber Kassem of Alexandria criticized the political ambitions of the Muslim Brotherhood and its slogan ‘Islam is the Solution’.

“This is a devotional matter, a religious call … so how are they entering politics? Is this hypocrisy?” he said.

(Writing by Shaimaa Fayed; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer and Jon Hemming)

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Workers and Women Fight for Their Share of Egypt’s Revolution

June 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Some 100,000 protesters gathered in Tahrir Square on May 27 to demand civilian, not military, rule.

By Reese Erlich

EGYPT/

A boy jumps from a pedestrian bridge into a small branch of the river Nile, to cool off on a hot day in Cairo June 3, 2011.

REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih

CAIRO—As Dr. Mohammad Shafik stands in the chaotic emergency room of the Cairo hospital where he works, his biggest worry as patients are wheeled in is not about issues of medical care. What concerns him is the lack of police protection against the fights and even murders that occur all too often in the city’s hospitals. A dispute between two people might result in one coming to the hospital with a gunshot wound, and then the relatives of those involved “come in and fight here,” he says. “All the police disappear with the hint of danger.”

Egyptian police, once a key component in the repressive apparatus of Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship, now often refuse to carry out their jobs, according to Shafik and other doctors. That’s just one sign of the upheaval roiling Egypt since the revolution that forced Mubarak’s resignation in February.

The health care system has become an important battle ground. Shafik says, “Of course we haven’t totally changed the regime as we had hoped. They are trying to reinvent the regime with new faces. That’s what makes the health care struggle key in Egypt. Every percentage point for increasing health care will come from the budget of the Ministry of Interior and other parts of the oppressive machine.”

The government allocates 3.6 percent of the national budget for health care, while the repressive Ministry of Interior funds an armed force of 1.4 million police.

Immediately after the revolution, doctors and other hospital staff members in various parts of Egypt formed independent unions. At Shafik’s hospital, Manshiet el Bakry, freshly organized workers threw out the old, pro-Mubarak hospital administrator and elected a new one.

Similar independent unions have sprung up spontaneously in textile, aluminum and other factories. Even the workers who issue marriage licenses have unionized and threatened to strike for higher pay.

Union members are asking for a minimum wage of $200 per month, among other demands. A hospital resident such as Shafik currently earns a base pay of only $50 per month.

Ellis J. Goldberg, a political science professor at the University of Washington and now visiting professor at American University in Cairo, says the current military government in Egypt is unwilling to meet such demands.

“They don’t want to make those hard decisions,” he says. “They might if there was some major political upheaval by the workers.”

Goldberg notes that hundreds of workplaces around the country have experienced strikes and demonstrations since February. A plethora of independent unions, worker federations and worker parties arose. To date, some have won local demands for wage increases or replacement of workplace administrators. But the government has resisted more thoroughgoing changes.

Goldberg says Mubarak cronies still control much of the economy through corruption and political patronage.

Some 40 “people formed the leadership of the ruling party and had significant economic interest in sectors of the economy benefiting from state contracts,” he says. “They used political power to maintain monopolies.”

Twenty years ago, the Mubarak regime began selling off state-owned enterprises to favored cronies, resulting in the layoff of tens of thousands of workers. Today, many workers want to re-nationalize some of the factories.

Fatma Ramadan, a researcher with the Union of Workers and Working Forces, says, “I favor re-nationalization. But workers should be part of the new management.”

Many organizations are competing for worker support. Conservative Islamist groups, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, have considerable backing among rural farmers, workers and the urban poor.
The Muslim Brotherhood has generally opposed strikes and demonstrations against the military government. It hopes to gain a substantial number of seats in the September parliamentary elections, and Brotherhood leaders are cooperating with the military in the meantime.

Brotherhood officials stress that strikes and demonstrations are too disruptive, a view that is shared by many ordinary Egyptians.

Interviewed after Friday prayers at a mosque, truck driver Ahmad Fathi says, “We should give the government some time. We shouldn’t have sit-ins and demonstrations every day. We need time for things to get back to normal.”

But union leaders and Tahrir Square activists don’t want things to go back to normal. Women workers are demanding an end to discrimination in hiring and promotions, and want government-funded child care. Fatma Ramadan says, “A woman is supposed to feed the kids and take them to school—along with working. There’s a lot of pressure on women workers.”

Women played an important role in the occupation of Tahrir Square and in the subsequent demonstrations and strikes. Women in Egypt are more prominent in professions and society in general than those in many other Arab countries.

For example, says Dr. Nadia el Ebissy, about 60 percent of the 400 doctors at Manshiet el Bakry Hospital are women. That’s partly because of opportunities for women in medical education and partly because many male doctors leave the country to earn higher salaries.

On March 8, International Women’s Day, some 1,000 women and their male supporters rallied in Cairo to demand, among other things, that women be allowed to run for president and become judges. The rally was viciously attacked, some say by thugs of the former regime.

Salma Shukrallah, a journalist with Ahram Online, says the Women’s Day attack didn’t permanently set back the efforts for women’s equality. She says major politicians must now at least pay lip service to the idea that a woman could be president. “Women’s demands are very much central,” she says. “But the widespread social values are still very sexist.”

Back at Manshiet el Bakry Hospital, newly elected administrator Dr. Milad Ismail has found interim funding through outside donations. “We now depend on donations from civil society, NGOs, from doctors at the hospital,” he says. “We also rely on the spirit of the workers.” Some hospital profits will now be used to hire private security guards to protect the doctors and staff. Dr. Ismail says the battle continues to get adequate funding from the Ministry of Health.

Dr. Shafik says the Tahrir Square occupation changed medical workers’ lives forever. “Doctors had revolutionary experiences,” he says. “Protesters died in our hands. That experience which has been transferred to us cannot be taken away.”

Veteran foreign correspondent Reese Erlich has covered the Middle East for 25 years. His reports from Egypt are funded by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Follow his blogs and read his other stories at the Pulitzer center’s website.

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INTERVIEW-Brotherhood Says Won’t Force Islamic Law on Egypt

June 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Yasmine Saleh

CAIRO, May 29 (Reuters) – The Muslim Brotherhood wants a diverse parliament after elections in September and is not seeking to impose Islamic law on Egypt, the head of the group’s newly formed political party said in an interview.

The Brotherhood, which has emerged as a powerful force after years of repression under ousted President Hosni Mubarak, has said it does not want a parliamentary majority, although rivals see it as well placed for a dominant position.

With secular politicians struggling to mount a challenge, Western investors are concerned about what a shift to an Islamic-leaning government would mean for Egypt, which relies on receipts from Western and other tourists and where tension between Muslims and the Christian minority have flared.

“We only use Islam as the basis of our party … which means that our general framework is Islamic sharia … We don’t issue religious rules in individual cases,” said Mohamed Mursi, head of the Brotherhood’s newly formed Justice and Freedom Party, which will contest the vote.

Liberal Egyptians in particular worry that the group could use for its own ends the second article of Egypt’s constitution, which makes sharia, Islamic law, a main source of legislation.
Egypt’s military rulers suspended the old constitution and introduced an interim one, but that article was unchanged.

Mursi, speaking in the group’s new five-storey headquarters in Mokattem on the outskirts of Cairo, dismissed such worries.

“We want to engage in a dialogue not a monologue,” he said. “The Brotherhood does not seek to control the parliament … We want a strong parliament … with different political forces.”
But he said Islamic law could have a place in a civil state in Egypt, where about 10 percent of the 80 million population are Christians. “Islamic sharia guarantees the rights of all people, Muslims and non-Muslims,” he said.

Mursi said he would stick by the Brotherhood’s pledge not to field a presidential candidate or support any Brotherhood member running, as one has already said he will do.

“The group said it will not field a candidate for the presidency or support one if decides to do so independently,” he said.

No Economic Platform Yet

The Brotherhood’s new offices are emblazoned with its emblem of crossed swords, a scene unimaginable in the Mubarak era when its members were rounded up in regular sweeps and it worked from two cramped apartments in Cairo.

Mursi, head of the engineering department in Egypt’s Zaqaziq University, led the Brotherhood’s parliament bloc in the 2000-2005 parliamentary session. The Brotherhood used to field its candidates as independents to skirt a ban on its activities.

The Brotherhood, which has spread deep roots in Egypt’s conservative Muslim society partly through a broad social programme, held 20 percent of seats in the 2005-2010 parliament.

It boycotted last year’s vote because of accusations of rigging, which rights groups said had been a feature of all votes under Mubarak.

Mursi said an economic platform had not yet been drawn up as the party, formed in April, was still organising itself.

But some secular politicians and other Egyptians are concerned that women and Christians could be sidelined and that alcohol could be banned, which analysts say is a concern as many tourists to Egypt are non-Muslims wanting a beach holiday and who might be deterred if alcohol is not served.

One in eight Egyptian jobs depend on tourism.

On Christians, he said: “We want everyone to be reassured … that we want to see our Christian brothers elected in parliament … We don’t want one group to control the parliament, neither the Brotherhood nor anyone else.”

Of the party’s 9,000 registered members, he said 100 were Christian and 1,000 were women, adding that the party’s deputy head, Rafik Habib, was a Christian.

When asked if the party could propose a law to prohibit alcohol, Mursi said such changes would be up to parliament to decide, not a single group, such as the Brotherhood.

“The Egyptian constitution is not the constitution of the Brotherhood but … of the Egyptian people,” said Mursi, adding that the constitution “says Egypt’s legislation is based on the principles of sharia, and not its details”.

(Editing by Edmund Blair and Elizabeth Piper)

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Egypt’s Mubarak Set to Go on Trial August 3

June 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Dina Zayed

2011-05-27T143917Z_1705055056_GM1E75R1QWY01_RTRMADP_3_EGYPT

A man sits at his shoe-shine stall as his sleeping child (R) is covered with the Egyptian national flag at Tahrir square in Cairo, May 27, 2011. Thousands of Egyptians converged on Cairo’s Tahrir square on Friday in what organisers called a "second revolution" to push for deeper reforms and a speedy trial for ousted President Hosni Mubarak and his former aides.

REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih

CAIRO (Reuters) – Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, overthrown by a popular uprising this year, was ordered on Wednesday to stand trial in August for the killing of protesters on charges that could carry the death penalty.

Mubarak, ousted on February 11 after mass protests demanding an end to his 30 years in power, has been questioned about his role in a crackdown in which more than 840 demonstrators died, as well as about alleged corruption.

He could face the death penalty if convicted on the charge of “pre-meditated killing.”

His two sons, Gamal, who was once viewed as being groomed for the presidency, and Alaa, will also stand trial alongside their father and prominent business executive Hussein Salem.
Judge Sayed Abdel-Azim, the head of the appeals court, said the trial would open on August 3 in a Cairo criminal court.

Egypt’s public prosecutor said on Tuesday that Mubarak was in no condition to be transferred to a prison hospital and would for now stay in a health facility in a Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, where he has been detained since mid-April.

Mubarak was admitted to hospital after reportedly suffering heart problems during his initial questioning.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States hoped Egypt would ensure due process for Mubarak, who was long a close Arab ally of Washington.

While emphasizing that it was up to the Egyptians to decide whether to prosecute Mubarak, she said any trial should be conducted to the highest standard. “Obviously we want to see the rule of law,” she told reporters.

Mubarak’s alleged crimes listed by the prosecutor include pre-meditated murder, abuse of influence, wasting public funds and unlawfully making private financial gains.
His sons and other former top officials are being held in Torah prison on the outskirts of Cairo.

(Writing by Edmund Blair, editing by Alistair Lyon)

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If Cairo Came to Kabul

April 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By David Swanson

Before Tahrir Square happened almost nobody predicted that President Hosni Mubarak would be forced out of office by a movement that didn’t pick up a gun. Had President Barack Obama expected that outcome, he might have publicly backed Mubarak’s departure before, rather than after, Mubarak stepped down.

Obama can be seen as overcompensating for that performance in Libya, but there he is placing faith in weapons. Anybody can do that. Egypt still has a long way to go on its path to a just society. But the question of whether Tunisian-Egyptian movements will find success elsewhere is the question of whether people can take the far more challenging step of placing trust in nonviolence.

Those who believed a nonviolent movement, one that would involve youth and women, could gain power in Egypt, worked for years to make it happen. Those saying it couldn’t be done were not permitted to get in the way of those doing it. Nonviolent strategists like American Gene Sharp advised the organizers of a force that developed completely beneath the U.S. media’s radar. What burst forth earlier this year appeared to be spontaneous. It was not.

It will come as a surprise to most Americans, and indeed to most Afghans, that a dedicated group of Afghan youth has begun building a principled and disciplined nonviolent movement for peace, independence, and unity in Afghanistan. By independence, the Afghan youth mean independence from the United States and NATO, but also from Pakistan and Iran and all other outside control, as well as independence from rule by the Taliban, warlords, and oligarchs of all stripes. By unity, they mean national Afghan unity inclusive of all ethnicities.

Bringing Cairo to Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, will not be achieved by occupying a central square this week and gradually increasing the crowd size for months and years as Afghans come to appreciate the value of the movement. Taking over the streets of the capital, if that tactic is employed, will not happen until a great deal of groundwork has been laid. That groundwork will likely involve several steps that have been identified by those working on this project.

Ethnic Unity

First, ethnic divisions will have to be healed. Afghanistan is 42% Pashtun, 27% Tajik, 9% Hazara, 9% Uzbek, and smaller percentages of several other ethnic groups. As long as these groups are rivals, it will be more difficult for the people as a whole to challenge corrupt oligarchs. A newspaper editor in Kabul told me he believed that even legitimate, credible elections — something Afghanistan has not had — would not produce a just and stable representative government, because any president would be from one ethnic group and not the others.

Afghans should be so lucky as to have that problem! The reality is that until the ethnic groups unite, and other progress is achieved, Afghans are unlikely to be able to compel their government to hold open and verifiable elections.

Ramazan Bashardost, a member of the Afghan Parliament, finished third in the official count of the 2009 presidential election. He is Hazara, and the first and second-place finishers were Pashtun and Tajik respectively. But Bashardost told me that he received more support from outside his ethnic group than from within it. Bashardost is a proponent of Gandhian nonviolence, ethnic unity, and national independence. He employs no security guards, cruises around town in a beat-up old car, and holds court in a tent in an empty lot in a particularly poor neighborhood.

Bashardost favors political reforms that would empower the legislature and disempower the president as well as political parties, thus allowing greater representation of minority groups. Bashardost is a powerful voice on the inside of the Afghan government for peace and nonviolence. Here is video of an interview I conducted with him. But Bashardost is not an activist or an organizer. He is a unifying figure, but he is a politician.

Teck Young Wee is another story. He is a medical doctor and a native of Singapore who began working with Afghan refugees in Pakistan 9 years ago and moved to Bamiyan Province in Afghanistan seven years ago. He was taken in by an Afghan family and given the name Hakim. Bamiyan is relatively free of U.S. forces and therefore something of a success story in terms of suffering low levels of violence.

Hakim has been mentoring youth in Bamiyan and elsewhere. The Bamiyan youth, primarily Hazara and Tajik, primarily boys and young men, but including girls and young women and other ethnic groups as well, have established the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers (AYPV). Peace is a radical idea, and apparently frightening to some. Hakim received threats from unidentified sources, and the people of Bamiyan created a warning system to protect him that involved plans to put their own bodies in the path of any violence. The threat has faded.

AYPV have taken steps toward ethnic unity, controversially arranging for college students from every ethnic group to room together. A similar approach of using housing rental policies to integrate the country on a larger scale is something I’ve heard advocated by professors in Kabul.

Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers from Bamiyan in the north have made particular efforts to reach out to Pashtun youth in the south. Peace volunteers hand made cell phone cases from second-hand leather and hand sewed the word ‘Peace’ in the Dari language on them. They sent these to Pashtun youth in Kandahar along with a video message. Then they phoned Pashtun youth leaders to say they had done this out of love and a desire for reconciliation. A Pashtun leader, in Hakim’s words (here’s video), “said this is impossible – he couldn’t believe it.” He said “this is a love you have shown us and we will never forget it.” That’s a powerful statement in a country where the things you most commonly hear people say they will never forget are acts of violence.

Hakim stresses that part of eliminating ethnic divisions will have to be recognizing and addressing the forces that strengthen them, namely the violence of warlords backed by the United States and NATO. Here, as elsewhere, is a chicken-and-egg dilemma. Unity is needed to drive out the occupiers, but the occupiers are a barrier to unity. Yet, this is always the way, and such traps have been opened before.

Women Behind The Wheel

A second part of the groundwork that is probably needed is the empowerment of women. A nonviolent peace movement stands a far greater chance of success, experts say, when it includes women and embraces a movement for women’s liberation.

An Afghan film director Sahraa Karimi has produced an engaging and illuminating documentary called “Afghan Women Behind the Wheel”. When she told me the title with a bit of an accent, I thought the last word was “Veil.” It could almost as well have been. The film is about the limited rights and options of women in a country that is not just poor and war-ravaged, but in which many men passionately believe women to be inferior.

The movie has great footage for anyone wondering what life in Kabul looks like, and it tells the stories of a number of women who learn to drive. In a scene that drew laughs from all the Afghans watching it with me, a driving instructor tells them “Another important thing is traffic lights, even though we don’t have any.” He goes on to explain what red, yellow, and green mean. I’m told there are a few traffic lights, but I haven’t seen them.

Something else you won’t see much of is women drivers. The women in the movie are violating a taboo. When they begin driving, vicious rumors are spread about them, including that they are working!

It’s actually very hard for anyone to find a job in Afghanistan, and driving lessons cost a good percentage of the average annual income. Some of the women in the movie are in fact working, one in a health clinic, one in a school, and one decides to become a taxi driver. She describes an unloved childhood and a forced marriage to a man 18 years her senior, a man who abused her. She enjoys the sport of Kabul driving, not a skill easily learned by anyone. Her story resembles the others’ — fathers prefer sons, sons inherit property, marriages are forced.

The taxi driver sees driving as the one thing she is able to do, and she is terrified of not being able to afford the gasoline to continue doing it. She dreams that cars might run on water. The same woman builds a house herself and loves it, but is afraid that her stepfather next door might hurt her or her children, and so lives in an apartment. Better times and changes come into her life, which is quite touching and revealing.

I certainly hope to see many more women driving in Afghanistan. If women are going to lead a movement, as they must, to reject both the U.S. occupation and the Taliban, they cannot remain in the position of children always asking for a ride.

A third part of a successful movement will be the educating and organizing of youth. In Afghanistan, 68% of the country is under age 25, and the life expectancy at birth is 44. A nation this young will rise or fall with the actions of youth.

This is almost certainly an advantage, in that youth have fewer years of trauma, bitterness, and ideologies of vengeance to overcome. While some of the leading members of AYPV lost family members to the Taliban, it is the youth more than their elders who carry less weighty memories and resentments. Watch this video of Afghan kids at an orphanage and you will feel more confident about Afghanistan’s future whether you want to or not. Watch this one of Afghan shepherd boys with slingshots and the possibility of David nonviolently halting Goliath’s assaults may appear within reach.

While Hakim is their mentor, the young men of AYPV are the leaders of this budding movement. They are thoughtful, experienced beyond their years, relentlessly energetic and upbeat. Abdullah, age 15, whose father was killed by the Taliban, recently explained his desire for peace and nonviolence from all sides to a defender of the US/NATO occupation. The icy response was that the Taliban ought to have killed him as well. Abdullah was told that he was too young to know real suffering. But the younger man was the wiser in this conversation, responding without anger or hatred and opposing the maintenance of a vicious cycle of violence.

One morning earlier this month, four members of Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers spoke to a college class in Kabul. The professor with the loudest voice argued that the United States and NATO wanted the good of all people. Faiz, age 20, was among those who spoke up in response. Speaking to elders is not part of the tradition these young men have grown up in, but they believe it has become necessary. Some eyes were opened. About half the class, by the end of the session, seemed to believe that peace might be possible.

A fourth important step is precisely that of persuading Afghans who have no experience with peace that peace is indeed possible, and that the nonviolent tools of peace are powerful enough to bring it about and to resist violent seekers of power, whether Afghan or foreign.

The U.S. military encourages Afghans to believe that only foreign violence can prevent domestic terror. Here’s a video showing U.S. advertisements for war in Afghanistan. A poster shows an Afghan baby with the words “suicide bomber or doctor?” The Peace Volunteers reject the notion that one violent force is needed to hold off another.

Afghanistan’s history has much to draw on in countering the idea that violence is inevitable. In particular, there is the history of a nonviolent Pashtun army under the leadership of Badshah Kahn resisting the British occupation of what was then the Northwest Frontier of India and is now Pakistan. A new film telling this story should be viewed by all Americans, but more importantly by all Afghans.

Imagining peace in Afghanistan is made difficult by decades of war, by traditions of honor and vengeance, by the current ubiquity of violence, but also by factors that dominate the lives of Afghans while often slipping from the minds of the rest of us. Afghans are hungry, miserable, suffering, and scared. Many have little or no electricity, healthcare, or potable water. In Afghanistan 850 children die every day.

There is no difficulty in motivating Afghans to protest in anger. But organizing a disciplined campaign of nonviolence moved by justice, while free of anger, may prove — as it usually is — more of a challenge.

A fifth factor is the building of alliances abroad, something the AYPV have been busy with, hosting dozens of foreign peace activists in Afghanistan, scheduling global conference calls on Skype, and sending messages far and wide. Here’s a video of U.S. peace activist Kathy Kelly speaking in the United States last week about her visits to Afghanistan.

The U.S. embassy has refused visas to members of AYPV who have been invited to visit and speak in the United States. What possible harm can the U.S. State Department believe would come from Americans meeting a few Afghans face-to-face and hearing about their plans for nonviolent activism and peace? Former Afghan member of Parliament Malalai Joya recently had a visa to the United States accepted following intense public pressure; so such reversals are possible.

The Revolution Has Begun

Whether a nonviolent movement will succeed in Afghanistan we have no way of knowing. Whether the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers and others inspired by them will play a major role, I certainly can’t say. Briefly visiting Afghanistan has imprinted the views of a small unrepresentative sample of Afghans on my mind in a way that no reading about the nation can do; and even those who live there are unable to predict the future. If a nonviolent movement achieves power, the basic sequence of events is hard to foresee. The U.S. military could be forced out before a representative government is established, or vice versa. Or everything could come at once. The point I want to make is that such a thing is completely possible and that it may have already begun.

The small group of thoughtful, committed citizens that Margaret Mead said can change the world has already begun working toward peace and justice in Afghanistan. They’ve begun small. Here’s a video of the Peace Volunteers installing an illuminated sign with the word for ‘Peace’ on the side of a mountain. Here they are planting trees for peace last month. Here’s a candlelight vigil. And here is a slideshow from what I hope will be the first of many marches for peace in Kabul — this one held on March 17th of this year.

The march was covered by all of the local television stations in Kabul as a startlingly new phenomenon. Peace? Who even dreams of such a thing, much less proposes a strategy to build it? Police surrounding the marchers with batons and riot gear were a less unusual sight.

Of course, there have always been marches and protests in Afghanistan. As in the United States, such events receive far less media attention than do acts of violence. But most such demonstrations do not propose nonviolence, peace, and love. They oppose particular campaigns of violence and are generally considered at risk of spawning violence of their own. When I was in Kabul earlier this month, students at Kabul University held a march against the U.S. occupation. I would have loved to attend and speak against the crimes of my own government, but as an American I was strongly urged to go nowhere near an event at which being an American could get me killed.

The Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers have sought to send their message of nonviolent opposition to war to the heart of the empire. Here’s a video of U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry in Bamiyan telling the AYPV that he will deliver their message to President Obama. Here’s a video of Congressman Keith Ellison promising the same.

The messages send out by the AYPV are eloquent and important. The immediate actions they advocate include establishing an international mediation team, a cease fire, a peacekeeping force, crisis teams, a unity campaign, restorative justice, and clean elections.

In another direct appeal the Afghan youth implore:

“Humanity has taken too long and lost too many in implementing non-violent, civil ways to resolve human conflict. We human beings can do better than repeatedly resorting to force and war to address human hurts and needs. Stop the killings, stop killing one another, stop killing the people. Stop killing us.”

David Swanson is the author of “War Is A Lie.”

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