01 February 2011

Mubarak’s revenge

In light of the on-going protests in Egypt, I invited one of our Research Fellows, Mariz Tadros, to share her initial reflections on events. Mariz is especially well informed, being an Egyptian, a former journalist with Al Ahram Weekly and an Assistant Professor at the American University in Cairo. This is what she wrote.

"The people’s revolution in Egypt has sustained its activism in its second week in demanding Mubarak’s relinquishment of power. The protesters have gathered today in the heart of Cairo in a bid to make this the largest rally of one million citizens on the streets in a bid to bring an end to thirty years of authoritarian rule. The protesters, in their thousands, are concentrated in Tahrir Square in Cairo and other central squares in other governorates, all being surrounded with an army that has so far been treating citizens with extraordinary civility. But what about the rest of the country? What is happening to the millions of other civilians who are not currently on the streets protesting?

The citizens of Cairo and Alexandria and other major cities and towns in Egypt have been subjected to an organized, systematic and comprehensive terror campaign orchestrated by the Ministry of Interior in its bid to turn Egyptians against the protesters and their demands. This plan was enacted on the nights of the Friday and Saturday 28th-29th January during the curfew which was imposed on Egyptian citizens from 4pm to 8 am. The story of what happened from evening to sunset on those two days needs to be told from the perspective of citizens’ experiences and examined in the light of its ramifications on the current power struggles analyzed.

On the evening of Friday 28th, Mubarak appeared on national television and announced the resignation of the current government and his commitment to political and economic reforms. Shortly thereafter, there was a complete withdrawal of the Ministry of Interior and all traces of the presence of security forces dissipated. The prisons were left empty without guards, the traffic was left without traffic men, the police stations became void of all personnel and the security forces that were responsible for protecting public and private premises disappeared. On Friday and Saturday night, Cairo was almost completely destroyed and brought to the ground. It was looted and plundered and many of the major buildings burned. What was witnessed across the streets of Cairo and other governorates- all taking place around about the same time were gangs comprised of 12-20 men in plain clothes, carrying batons and metal objects, swarming the streets, looting shops, terrorizing citizens and breaking into residential buildings. In the process, factories, stores and public premises were burned to the ground. By Sunday, there was an estimated 18 LE billion in losses.

Eyewitnesses confirm that the protesters were not the responsible party. The protesters’ attacks were very specific and strategic: police stations which are symbolic of the police state and its use of terror against citizens and the premises of the national ruling Democratic Party, symbolic of the corruption and decay of the current regime, otherwise, no public or private properties were touched.

In response to the withdrawal of the police force on Friday, within minutes, the people in every neighbourhood took over, established in every street popular committees for the protection of public and private property. In every street, the youth came down with knives, swords and kerosene gas, closed the streets from every outlet and stood to fight off the thugs. Many of these vigilante groups in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez were able to capture the groups of thugs, and discovered, from their ID cards that they were affiliated to the Ministry of Interior. They were handed over to the military. The other gangs of thugs also believed to be members of the Ministry of Interior, roamed the streets at midnight firing shotguns in the air generating fear and uncertainty. This is in line with a leaked document from the Minister of Interior’s office, widely publicized by the BBC and the Egyptian press and which revealed a strategy of complete withdrawal of the Ministry’s personnel, their replacement of official uniform with plain clothes and their infiltration of the streets. The objective, exposed from the leaked document was to create complete and utter chaos in the bid to terrorize the Egyptian people into pleading for the return of the security forces. The plan failed because of the highly sophisticated organizational skills displayed by citizens on a neighbourhood level and the co-ordination between the citizens and the military in capturing the responsible parties.

However, what is clear is that while the political fate of Egypt is being fought, the Ministry of Interior will not shy from using every possible strategy to destroy the country to the ground- very much in line with the military “scorched earth” policy. It is difficult to assume that the Minister of Interior, Habib el Adly was acting independently of President Mubarak. In the past thirty years, Mubarak has fragmented the security forces affiliated to the Ministry of Interior into many semi-autonomous but competing apparatuses. For example, in addition to the state security investigations apparatus that serves as the domestic intelligence agency, there is also a parallel presidential investigations apparatus. It is these actors and many other semi-autonomous ones that are functioning underground now, the scope of their power (security or otherwise) and the lengths to which they will go to destroy the country is unknown. As the euphoria of public protests runs high, we must also not forget to document meticulously what is happening on the streets of Cairo in the hope that one day, we will use the evidence to bring the responsible parties to justice.

In the meantime, unless the military adopts a clear position as to which side it is on- the people or the Mubarak regime, Egyptians, and not the President will continue to be the bleeding party. The display of amicability and civility by the military towards the Egyptian population is simply not good enough anymore"


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