Egyptian revolution: A dream unfulfilled

Egyptian revolution: A dream unfulfilled
Cairo’s Tahrir Square became the symbolic center of the protest movement on Jan. 25, where demonstrators camped out under the watchful eye of the world’s media. (Supplied)
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Updated 26 January 2021

Egyptian revolution: A dream unfulfilled

Egyptian revolution: A dream unfulfilled
  • A decade after the Egyptian Revolution, veteran journalist Abdel Latif El-Menawy recalls 18 days that shook the Arab world

DUBAI: Abdel Latif El-Menawy had a unique perspective on the events of Jan. 25, 2011, and the tumultuous weeks that followed. As head of news at the state-owned Egyptian Radio and Television Union, he watched the revolutionary upheaval unfold from his newsroom in the Maspero television building on the Nile Corniche. Now, a decade on, El-Menawy looks back at Hosni Mubarak’s fall from power and the events that led to this reckoning.

Most narratives of the Arab Spring begin the same way, over 2,000 miles west of Cairo in the Tunisan capital, Tunis, where, on Dec. 17, 2010, a poor street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire after police confiscated his fruit cart. His anguished cry for justice set off a chain reaction, drawing vast crowds onto the streets and forcing Tunisia’s ruler of 23 years, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, to step down.

There is no doubt that Jan. 25 is an important chapter in Egypt’s modern history, regardless of its results or the security and political turmoil that occurred after it in Egypt.

Abdel Latif El-Menawy

Bouazizi’s sacrifice and the “Jasmine Revolution” it inspired were felt across the Middle East and North Africa, where swathes of the population had endured years of economic stagnation, mass unemployment and official corruption, coupled with limited personal freedoms and heavy-handed policing.
Emulating the rage of Tunisians, crowds of young Egyptians spilled onto the streets on Jan. 25 to demand change. Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo became the symbolic center of the movement, where protesters camped out under the watchful eye of the world’s media. Aggressive police tactics to quell the protests stoked anger further, culminating in calls for the removal of Mubarak.
“Egyptians like to give the impression that they are as calm as the waters on the surface of the Nile, the banks of which we have been living on since the dawn of civilization,” Menawy wrote in his 2012 book “Tahrir, the last 18 days of Mubarak” — his account of those remarkable weeks.


“But if you look a little deeper into the water, you will see underneath a plethora of whirlpools and currents. The fatal error committed by former President Mubarak’s regime, and its predecessors, was that they never grasped the true essence of the Egyptians.”
Indeed, Menawy believes several opportunities were missed by the Mubarak government to address the public grievances that ultimately led to its demise. Looking back with a decade’s hindsight, the veteran journalist wonders whether history could have played out differently.
“I felt that there were changes that had taken place in Egypt, and these changes were not born on Jan. 25, but some time before that, as the political situation in Egypt was suffering from great fluidity as a result of mistakes committed by the Mubarak regime,” Menawy told Arab News.
“When the regime couldn’t take advantage of the opportunities to correct the situation, these opportunities were wasted. That is why it was natural for the streets to move to demand change.”
Egypt is the most populous country in the Arab world — home to almost 85 million people at the time of the revolution in 2011. Today the figure is closer to 104 million.
Poverty rates on the eve of the upheaval vary, with some studies estimating almost 40 million Egyptians — roughly half of the population — were living below the poverty line on less than $2 a day.
Despite an annual economic growth rate of 7.2 percent during the first decade of the new millennium, the proportion of the population below the poverty line increased from 17.8 percent to 23 percent, according to Egyptian Council of Ministers data in 2010.

TIMELINE

Jan. 25, 2011: Thousands of protesters gather in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

Feb. 11: Mubarak steps down, transitional military council takes power.

March 19: Egyptians approve constitutional amendments, paving way for elections.

June 24, 2012: Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi wins presidential election.

June 30, 2013: Egyptians begin days of protests demanding Morsi’s resignation.

July 3: Defense Minister Abdel Fattah El-Sisi announces Morsi’s removal.

Dec. 25: Muslim Brotherhood designated a terrorist organization.

May 28, 2014: El-Sisi wins presidential election.

Moreover, the gap was widening between rich and poor, with a small elite living in luxury while whole segments of society struggled with the spiraling cost of living. Petrol prices were rising and there were even cases of food shortages.
When the years of pent-up frustration found their expression in the Arab Spring, it was almost impossible to put the genie back in the bottle. Menawy vividly recalls the moment at 5 a.m. on Jan. 28, 2011, when a republican guard officer walked into his office, flanked by two soldiers, to tell him the Maspero television building was now under military control.
Protesters, angered by the state media’s coverage of events, had attempted to storm the television studio. Security forces would now decide who was allowed in or out of the building, as a countrywide crackdown got underway.
Another moment seared into Menawy’s memory came two weeks later, when Omar Suleiman, then-vice president and head of intelligence, entered the building on Feb. 11 to announce Mubarak’s resignation.


“In the name of God the merciful, the compassionate,” Suleiman told the nation in a short broadcast.
“Citizens, during these very difficult circumstances Egypt is going through, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down from the office of president of the republic and has charged the high council of the armed forces to administer the affairs of the country.” A military council was formed to run the country’s affairs.
There was jubilation in Tahrir Square, where young Egyptians felt their moment had finally come to create a fairer society. In reality, it was only the beginning of a fresh period of upheaval and uncertainty.
“There is no doubt that Jan. 25 is an important chapter in Egypt’s modern history, regardless of its results or the security and political turmoil that occurred after it in Egypt,” said Menawy.
“I think all parties are responsible for what happened. Everyone made mistakes. But it was a cornerstone of change in political life in Egypt. I think that we are still in the reform phase and there is no doubt that it will continue for a long time, because change is difficult.”
The dreams woven on that day in Tahrir Square were not fulfilled by Mubarak’s exit. Instead, the country was rocked by new economic calamities and the rise to power of Mohamed Morsi — a leading figure of the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

“I think that Jan. 25 has not achieved any successes other than throwing a stone into the stagnant political life,” Menawy said.
“Among the failures is also the deterioration of the Egyptian economy after stability. The events also created a state of extreme violence in society, whether physical violence or even at the level of ideas.”
Libya, Syria and Yemen were also swept up in the tumult of the Arab Spring. But rather than emerging as renewed forces, these nations were thrown into a decade of civil wars, the outcomes of which remain undecided.
Tunisia, meanwhile, is “trying to rearrange society through elections,” Menawy said. “Only Egypt corrected its path with the June 30 revolution.”
The “second Egyptian revolution” came in 2013, a year after Morsi’s inauguration. The resumption of street protests that summer saw Morsi forced from power and his Muslim Brotherhood designated as a terrorist organization.


The following year, Morsi’s defense minister, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, won the presidential election and was sworn into office.
Contemplating why the Egyptian revolution took the path that it did, Menawy says the country is fortunate to have a strong sense of national identity and solid institutions.
“Egypt is a big country. It has its roots in the history of human civilization. It has a diverse, yet harmonious society,” he said. “Egypt also has a strong and united national army, which may not be found in other countries that are full of sectarian, ethnic and tribal conflicts.”
As Egypt looks ahead to the coming decade, Menawy hopes the process of political, social and economic reform will continue in order to reflect the country’s competing visions of the future.
In his view, the most important lesson to take away from the Jan. 25 revolution is that “the majority of Egyptians love their country dearly, but everyone loves it in a different way.”

 

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Twitter: @jumanaaltamimi


Houthis ‘using trapped families in Marib as human shield’

Houthis ‘using trapped families in Marib as human shield’
Updated 14 min 2 sec ago

Houthis ‘using trapped families in Marib as human shield’

Houthis ‘using trapped families in Marib as human shield’
  • Militants recently stormed several displacement camps in Serwah, west of Marib, blocking people’s escape to safer areas

AL-MUKALLA: Hundreds of Yemeni families trapped inside their camps in Marib province by Iran-backed Houthis are being used as a human shield against government forces, a Yemen government unit has claimed.

In a report seen by Arab News on Saturday, the internationally recognized government’s Executive Unit for IDP Camps said that militia fighters had besieged camps and planted land mines on main roads to stop families escaping and hinder advancing troops.

“Houthis have prevented 470 families from fleeing, using them as human shields. Until today, many families in the camps are still trapped by the Houthis,” the report said.

Militants recently stormed several displacement camps in Serwah, west of Marib, blocking people’s escape to safer areas. 

The government unit has appealed to the rebels to stop using displaced families as hostages and allow them to leave the camps.

“The Executive Unit for IDP Camps calls on the Houthis to respect international humanitarian law and stop targeting civilians and displaced persons, and to open safe corridors in order to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid.”

The Houthis earlier this month renewed a bloody offensive on Marib, an oil-rich city and the government’s last bastion in the northern half of the country. For four weeks, the Houthis have faced stiff resistance from government forces backed by massive air and logistics support from the Arab coalition. 

Army commanders say that hundreds of Houthis have been killed, wounded or captured and their advance on Marib halted. 

Maj. Gen. Nasser Al-Thaybani, commander of the army’s Military Operation Authority, said that more than half the Houthi fighters sent to seize Marib have died or been wounded in the fighting, while army troops and allied tribesmen have pushed back all of the Houthi attacks on government-controlled areas. 

Yemeni government forces also suffered heavy casualties during fierce clashes.

Local officers and media said on Saturday that Brig. Gen. Abdul Ghani Sha’alan, commander of the Special Security Forces in Marib, was one of several government soldiers who died in fighting with the rebels near Balouq mountain in Serwah district, west of Marib city, on Friday. 

A local military officer, who declined to be named, told Arab News that Sha’alan was leading government troops pushing back a Houthi attack on the peak, which was claimed by government forces last week.

Several army commanders and tribal leaders have been killed since the beginning of the rebel offensive on Marib.

Yemen’s Foreign Ministry on Saturday criticized international rights groups over their failure to “name and shame” the Houthis for attacking residential areas after the densely populated city was targeted by 10 ballistic missiles in the previous 24 hours.

“Since the beginning of February, the province has come under the largest and fiercest Houthi attack in which the militia used all kinds of heavy weapons, including artillery, explosive-laden drones and ballistic missiles,” the ministry said in a statement. 

On Friday, Yemen’s Prime Minister, Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed, hailed military support from the Arab coalition to help tilt the war in the army’s favor, vowing to continue backing army troops and tribesmen until they push the Houthi out of areas under their control.


Syria strikes: Biden warns of ‘consequences’ for Iran’s militia support

Syria strikes: Biden warns of ‘consequences’ for Iran’s militia support
Updated 38 min 19 sec ago

Syria strikes: Biden warns of ‘consequences’ for Iran’s militia support

Syria strikes: Biden warns of ‘consequences’ for Iran’s militia support
  • Psaki told reporters Friday that Biden used his constitutional authority to defend US personnel
  • Comments follow Friday’s attack on Syria-Iraq border compound by US jets

LONDON: US airstrikes in Syria demonstrate that Iran should expect retaliation for supporting militia groups that threaten American interests, President Joe Biden has warned.
“You can’t act with impunity. Be careful,” he said when asked about Friday morning’s strikes on Syria’s eastern border with Iraq.
The Pentagon said the attack was carried out by two US Air Force F-15E aircraft that fired seven missiles.

The pair destroyed nine buildings used by Iran-backed militias and heavily damaged two others in eastern Syria.
Officials said the strikes were not intended to destroy the groups, but to demonstrate that the US “will act firmly” to avoid greater regional escalations.
The airstrikes were “legal and appropriate” as they “took out facilities housing valuable capabilities used by the militia groups to attack US and allied forces in Iraq,” officials said.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, the leading Republican on the Senate Committee on Armed Services, said the decision was “the correct, proportionate response to protect American lives.”
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said Biden “used his constitutional authority to defend US personnel.”
She said the strikes were designed to deter future actions by Iran-backed militias following a rocket attack on Feb. 15 in Iraq that killed one civilian contractor and wounded a US service member.
Pentagon chief spokesman John Kirby said the strikes resulted in “casualties,” but declined to comment on the details.
An Iraqi militia official with close links to Iran said one fighter was killed in the strike and several others wounded.
The group housed in the compound is known as Kataeb Hezbollah, or Hezbollah Brigades — an Iraqi Shiite paramilitary group sponsored by Iran.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said the strikes targeted a shipment of weapons. It reported that 22 fighters from an Iraqi umbrella group of militias were killed.
Kataeb Hezbollah confirmed that one of its fighters was killed and warned that it had the right to retaliate.


Tunisia’s main party holds huge rally as government row grows

Tunisia’s main party holds huge rally as government row grows
Updated 27 February 2021

Tunisia’s main party holds huge rally as government row grows

Tunisia’s main party holds huge rally as government row grows
  • In one of the biggest demonstrations since Tunisia’s revolution, thousands of Ennahda supporters marched in Tunis
  • The dispute has played out against a grim backdrop of economic anxiety and disillusionment with democracy

TUNIS: Tunisia’s biggest political party assembled an immense crowd of supporters in the capital on Saturday in a show of strength that could fuel a dispute between the president and the prime minister.
In one of the biggest demonstrations since Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, tens of thousands of Ennahda supporters marched through central Tunis chanting “The people want to protect institutions!” and “The people want national unity!.”
The dispute has played out against a grim backdrop of economic anxiety, disillusionment with democracy and competing reform demands from foreign lenders and the UGTT, the powerful main labor union, as debt repayments loom.
Ennahda, a moderate Islamist party led by Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi, has backed Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi in a standoff with President Kais Saied over a cabinet reshuffle.
Banned before the revolution, it has been a member of most governing coalitions since then and, although its share of the vote has fallen in recent years, it still holds the most seats in parliament.
“Nationalists, Islamists, democrats and communists,” Ghannouchi told the crowd, “we were gathered together during the dictatorship ... and we must unite again.”
The most recent election, in 2019, delivered a fragmented parliament while propelling Saied, an independent, to the presidency.
When the government collapsed after only five months in office, Saied nominated Mechichi as prime minister.
But they soon fell out, and Mechichi turned for support to the two biggest parties — Ennahda and jailed media mogul Nabil Karoui’s Heart of Tunisia.
Last month, Mechichi changed 11 ministers in a reshuffle seen as replacing Saied’s allies with those of Ennahda and Heart of Tunisia. The president has refused to swear four of them in, however.
Meanwhile, demonstrators protesting last month against inequality and police abuses focused most of their anger on Mechichi and Ennahda.
Ennahda billed Saturday’s march as “in support of democracy,” but it was widely seen as an effort to mobilize popular opposition to Saied — raising the spectre of competing protest movements.
“This is a strong message that all the people want dialogue and national unity,” Fethi Ayadi, a senior Ennahda official, told Reuters.
To add to the tensions, demands by foreign lenders for spending cuts, which could lead to unpopular reductions in state programs, are opposed by the UGTT.
Tunisia’s 2021 budget forecasts borrowing needs of 19.5 billion Tunisian dinars ($7.2 billion), including about $5 billion in foreign loans.
But Tunisia’s credit rating has fallen since the coronavirus pandemic began, and market concerns about its ability to raise funds are reflected in sharp price rises for Tunisian credit default swaps — insurance against default on its debt. ($1 = 2.7 Tunisian dinars)


Libya speaker flags March 8 for government confidence vote

Libya speaker flags March 8 for government confidence vote
Updated 27 February 2021

Libya speaker flags March 8 for government confidence vote

Libya speaker flags March 8 for government confidence vote
  • It was unclear whether the vote itself would take place on March 8 or whether the meeting would be limited to talks
  • Interim PM Abdul Hamid Dbeibah on Thursday said he faced a Friday deadline to form his government according to a UN road map

TRIPOLI: The Libyan parliament will discuss holding a vote of confidence on a new unified government for the divided country on March 8, its powerful speaker Aguila Saleh said.
Oil-rich Libya has been mired in chaos since dictator Muammar Qaddafi was ousted and killed in a popular uprising backed by a NATO air campaign a decade ago.
Its Government of National Accord (GNA) is based in Tripoli, while eastern strongman Khalifa Haftar supports a parallel administration based in the east.
“Parliament will convene to discuss a vote of confidence on the government on Monday, March 8, at 11 am in Sirte if the 5+5 Joint Military Commission guarantees the security of the meeting,” Saleh said in a statement late Friday, referring to a city halfway between east and west.
The military commission is a forum bringing together five representatives from each side.
“If that proves impossible, the session will be held in the temporary seat of parliament in Tobruk at the same date and time,” he said, adding that the military committee would need to advise the parliament in advance.
It was unclear whether the vote itself would take place on March 8 or whether the meeting would be limited to talks.
Interim prime minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah on Thursday said he faced a Friday deadline to form his government according to a UN road map.
He said he had submitted to Saleh a “vision” for a cabinet line-up that would help steer Libya to elections in December, and that the names of proposed ministers would be disclosed in parliament during the confidence vote.
Parliament has 21 days to vote on the line-up, according to the road map.
Dbeibah was selected early this month in a UN-sponsored inter-Libyan dialogue, the latest internationally backed bid to salvage the country from a decade of conflict and fragmented political fiefdoms.
Saleh said Friday that Dbeibah should choose “competent people with integrity, from across the country, in order to achieve (national) consensus” for his government.
“Everyone should be represented so that (Libya) can emerge from the tunnel,” Saleh said.
If approved, a new cabinet would replace the Tripoli-based GNA, headed by Fayez Al-Sarraj, and the parallel administration in the east.
The premier will then face the giant task of unifying Libya’s proliferating institutions and leading the transition up to December 24 polls.


Iraqi interpreters face death threats from Iranian-backed militias

Iraqi interpreters face death threats from Iranian-backed militias
Updated 27 February 2021

Iraqi interpreters face death threats from Iranian-backed militias

Iraqi interpreters face death threats from Iranian-backed militias
  • Seven of the interpreters have gone into hiding as they believe their identities have been exposed
  • Militia groups responsible for attacking bases targeted one of the interpreters and posted bullets through his door

LONDON: Eight Iraqi interpreters who worked with British forces fighting Daesh have said they fear for their lives after receiving threats from Iranian-backed militias.
Seven of the interpreters have gone into hiding as they believe their identities have been exposed to anti-coalition groups targeting bases used by US and UK troops, The Times reported.
The interpreters stopped translating for British forces at the Camp Taji military base in March 2020 after troops who were training Iraqi forces began to leave the country.
Two interpreters told the British newspaper that their full names, identification numbers and vehicle registrations were handed over to Iraqi Security Forces and the information was handed over to checkpoints in Baghdad. This meant that the data ended up being accessed by Iranian-backed militias.
Militia groups responsible for attacking bases where coalition troops were stationed targeted one of the interpreters and posted bullets through his door. They had told Iraqis working with coalition forces to work with them instead.
The interpreters have moved, except for one who could not afford to do so. Some have left their families amid concerns that they would be found and killed.
The UK’s Ministry of Defense said it was investigating the allegations. It is understood that the British military believes there were no data breaches and that standard security was followed.
Another interpreter said that Iranian-backed militias increased their targeting of coalition bases after the death of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani in January 2020.
He said that tougher security requirements after the attacks meant that interpreters had to supply their full documentation, including vehicle details, to the coalition.
“They told us they would not pass this information to the Iraqi government, but it was then circulated for all the checkpoints throughout Baghdad. Many of these checkpoints are joint with the Popular Mobilization Forces — the legal name of these militias, of which many of them have loyalty to Iran,” he told The Times.
He is appealing to Britain to give him and his family sanctuary. “We are not a huge number, there are only eight of us with our families.”
The Ministry of Defense said: “While we do not employ interpreters in Iraq directly, we take any breach of personal security extremely seriously. We hold our contractors to the highest standards and are investigating.”