Bob Feldman :
People’s History of Egypt, Epilogue/Update, Section 2, November 2013-April 2014

Despite the brutal tactics of the counterrevolutionary Sisi military regime, a struggle for political, economic, and cultural democracy continues in Egypt.

People walk past huge banner for Egypt's army chief, Field Marshal al-Sisi in front of High Court of Justice in downtown Cairo

Eqyptians walk past banner showing Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in downtown Cairo, March 13, 2014. Photo by Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters. Image from Al-Monitor.

By Bob Feldman | The Rag Blog | June 25, 2014

[With all the dramatic activity in Egypt, Bob Feldman’s Rag Blog “people’s history” series, “The Movement to Democratize Egypt,” which concludes here, could not have been more timely. Also see Feldman’s “Hidden History of Texas” series on The Rag Blog.]

According to a December 28, 2013 press release of Human Rights Watch, between July and December 2013 Egyptian government authorities “killed more than 1,000 pro-Muslim Brotherhood protesters; arrested thousands of its supporters, including the majority of its leadership; and engaged in a systematic media campaign to demonize the group” and “a Cairo court in September [2013}” then “found the Brotherhood to be an illegal organization.”

The movement to democratize Egypt

The same release indicated how Sisi’s military coup regime also then used a December 24, 2013 attack on an Egyptian police station in Mansoura as a pretext to further violate the human rights and democratic rights of Muslim Brotherhood supporters and activists in Egypt, by designating the Muslim Brotherhood “a terrorist organization.”

The Egyptian government’s designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization appears to be aimed at expanding the crackdown on peaceful Brotherhood activities and imposing harsh sanctions on its supporters….

The government’s designation immediately followed a Dec. 24, 2013 bomb attack on a police station in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura that left 16 people dead and over 130 injured. The government blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for the blast without investigating or providing any evidence. The Brotherhood condemned the blast, calling for “perpetrators of this crime [to] be brought to justice.”…

“The government’s decision on the Muslim Brotherhood follows over five months of government efforts to vilify the group,” said Sarah Leah Whitson , Middle East and North Africa director, “By rushing to point the finger at the Brotherhood without investigations or evidence, the government seems motivated solely by its desire to crush a major opposition movement.”…

The Foreign Ministry spokesman, Badr Abdellaty, was quoted by the Wall Street Journal acknowledging that direct evidence of the Brotherhood’s involvement in the Mansoura blast was not immediately available. The Muslim Brotherhood has renounced violence since the 1970s….

The government’s terrorist designation seems intended to end all Muslim Brotherhood activities… Those who participate in demonstrations could face up to five years in prison, while those who lead the organization risk the death penalty.

The Dec. 25 government statement said that participation, promotion, and funding of Brotherhood activities would also be subject to criminal sanction under the same section of the penal code. Osama Sharabi, former director of the public administration for artistic work, declared on a Dec. 26 television program on Al Hayah Channel that anyone posting a “Raba’a sign,” commemorating people killed when the government dispersed the sit-in in Raba’a Square in August [2013], on the social networking site Facebook will also face criminal charges under the penal code.

Within hours of the government’s announcement, Egyptian authorities intensified their crackdown against the Brotherhood. The official Middle East News Agency reported that police arrested 27 Brotherhood supporters, including three university students, on Dec. 26 in the Nile Delta province of Sharkiya on charges including membership in a terrorist organization. The main evidence the article cited against 16 of the accused was the distribution of anti-army and anti-police pamphlets.

On Dec. 27, the news agency also reported the arrests of 19 Brotherhood members in the adjacent province of Gharbiya for membership in a banned organization. The Interior Ministry announced that three had been killed and 265 arrested at protests throughout Egypt on December 27, according to the state-run Al Ahram newspaper. An article in the Egyptian newspaper al-Masry al-Youm early on Dec. 28 indicated that the death toll had increased to five and cited a security source as saying that the number of Brotherhood protesters arrested on Dec. 27 had risen to 304.

The Interior Ministry blocked the publication of the Brotherhood-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party’s daily newspaper on Dec. 26, Al-Ahram reported….

On Dec. 23, Al-Ahram reported that the Central Bank had frozen the bank accounts of over 1,000 nongovernmental organizations reportedly linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. This announcement so drastically affects health services in Egypt, much of which Brotherhood-linked charities provide, that the Health Ministry announced a”state of emergency” on Dec. 26, Daily News Egypt reported, citing a ministry statement.

The official Middle East News Agency reported on Dec. 27 that the Minister of Endowments had decided to take over all mosques belonging to banned organizations, presumably including the Brotherhood, and to replace its preachers. The government has also begun procedures to seize over 140 Brotherhood-affiliated schools and to freeze the assets of over 130 of its senior leaders…

But despite its record of human rights violations and political repression during the last six months of 2013, on the third anniversary of the start of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution the Sisi regime and the pro-regime Egyptian mass media were still able to mobilize large numbers of people in Egypt to express their support for Sisi in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on January 25, 2014.

As a January 26, 2014 statement of the Revolutionary Socialists group in Egypt observed, “despite the fact that its base of support has relatively decreased, it does enjoy positive backing from some sections, mostly artisans, workers from small workshops and street vendors, as well as sections of the middle class who are desperate for `stability’ and who have ‘had enough of the revolution,’ in addition the old ruling party’s network of interests…” and “more importantly, wide sections of the masses have been demoralized and are looking for a saviour.”

Yet as the Revolutionary Socialists’ Jan. 26, 2014 statement also noted:

“The phase of El-Sisi’s rule is clearly a period of counter-revolutionary offensive. The military, the police, Mubarak’s cronies and opportunist forces are in control… El-Sisi’s regime can only continue on the basis of killing, repression, incitement and distortion against the revolution and revolutionaries….

And in its Feb. 10, 2014 statement the UK-based Egyptian Solidarity Initiative group indicated what happened to opponents of El-Sisi’s military regime who attempted to demonstrate in Egypt on the third anniversary of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution on January 25:

Army leader Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi…used the third anniversary of Egypt’s Tahrir uprising to attack activists who led nationwide protests against the dictatorship of President Mubarak. When demonstrators gathered in Cairo on Jan. 25 2014 to mark the 2011 events they were targeted by snipers and by riot police using teargas and live ammunition.

Health officials say that 64 people were killed, most as a result of gunshot wounds; participants believe that the figures are much higher and that in addition more than 1,000 demonstrators were arrested. Several lawyers who visited police stations to secure access to those detained were seized and imprisoned…

The Egyptian Solidarity Initiative group’s February 10, 2014 statement described the current political situation for people in Egypt in the following way:

Egyptians have struggled courageously for their freedoms — now they ask if gains of the 2011 revolution are to be dismissed with a new wave of repression. Egypt Solidarity calls urgently for support of those under assault from a regime hostile to human rights and social justice… New laws forbid public protest without permission of the authorities. Young activists associated with the movement of Tahrir Square are prominent among those now in prison for defending the right to public assembly and to freedom of expression. Amnesty International reports that “repression and impunity [of security forces] are the order of the day.”

In December 2013 peaceful activists opposing the government’s campaign to vote “Yes” in a contentious referendum on a new constitution were arrested in Cairo for displaying “No” posters. Human Rights Watch says: “Protecting the right to vote requires safeguarding the right to free expression… Egyptian citizens should be free to vote for or against the new constitution, not fear arrest for simply campaigning for a ‘‘no’ vote.”

Amnesty [International] comments that current policies are “a charter for state-sanctioned repression and carte blanche for security force abuses.” In a detailed report on Egypt at the third anniversary of the 2011 revolution, the organisation concludes that such policies are “a betrayal of all the aspirations for bread, freedom and social justice.”…

Secular activists not affiliated with the Brotherhood — and who have been among the latter’s most outspoken critics — are now also accused of “terrorism,” a practice familiar from the Mubarak era. The young revolutionaries of 2011, acclaimed worldwide for their principled opposition to Mubarak’s regime, have also been described as a “fifth column” and as “paid agents of enemy powers”…

Many democratic advances that followed the fall of President Mubarak are now in danger. All branches of the state apparatus are being used to quash dissent and to create a climate of fear: university campuses, freed of security forces in 2011, have been invaded by riot police using live ammunition and birdshot against students; academics who defend human rights have been charged with offences including terrorism and espionage; workers exercising their rights to form independent unions and to challenge employers face intimidation and arrest; human rights organisations have been attacked, their files stolen and their officers arrested; media organisations which express independent views have been assaulted and closed, and their staff accused of terrorism….

In its Feb. 10, 2014 statement the Egypt Solidarity group also called on “ governments to suspend all financial, military or other support to the Egyptian authorities that may be used to violate the rights of Egyptian citizens” and “in particular” demanded the “immediate cessation of all sales and transfers to the Egyptian government of weapons, ammunition, vehicles, cyber-surveillance technology and other materials for use against those who exercise their right to protest.”

Yet a month after an Egyptian court judge sentenced 529 Muslim Brotherhood supporters or activists to death for allegedly killing a single Egyptian policeman (and only a few days before another Egyptian court judge sentenced an additional 683 Muslim Brotherhood supporters, including the Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leader, to death), the London Guardian newspaper reported the following in its April 23, 2014 issue:

The U.S. has given the go-ahead for the delivery of 10 Apache helicopters to Egypt that the Obama administration had withheld since the military-led overthrow of…Mohamed Morsi last year… The Apaches’ delivery will please Egyptian military officials who had previously claimed in private that the withholding of the helicopters was in effect siding with the government’s opponents…

But, it should be noted, the Houston-based Apache Corporation has continued to profit in 2013 and 2014 from its investment in the exploitation of Egypt’s oil and gas resources, despite the human rights violations committed by the Egyptian military coup regime since late July 2013.

In the words of a January 30, 2014 press release of the Apache Corporation:

Recent drilling results, approval of three new development leases and expanded natural gas processing facilities in the West Kalabsha area have set the stage for continued growth and investment in Egypt’s Western Desert in 2014. Apache operates in Egypt in partnership with Sinopec International Petroleum Exploration and Production Corporation [a/k/a China Petrochemical Corporation], which owns a one-third minority interest in Apache’s Egypt oil and gas business.

Successful wells included the deepest well drilled in the Western Desert and the first well in a horizontal drilling program targeting tight conventional and unconventional resources.

“We currently have 27 drilling rigs in operation — including four drilling horizontal wells — as well as 5 million exploration acres and 2 million development acres in the target-rich, stacked-pay environment of the Western Desert. Apache sees continued opportunity for profitable investment developing Egypt’s oil and gas resources,” said Thomas M. Maher, Apache’s region vice president and general manager in Egypt…

Based on new field discoveries in the North Tarek and Khalda Offset concessions, Apache has applied for two additional development leases expected to be approved in 2014. Three leases recently approved…brought the number of applications approved during 2013 to 20. The leases approved in 2013 converted 66,000 acres of short-term exploration acreage into 20- to 25-year term development leases. Apache currently has 119 development leases… In 2013, Apache…drilled more than 250 wells. Gross production averaged 346,530 barrels of oil equivalent per day during the third quarter…

And according to a January 31, 2014 article by Bradley Olsen that was posted on the Bloomberg News website:

Apache’s relationship with its partners and Egypt’s Ministry of Petroleum hasn’t changed since political upheaval began in 2011 with an uprising against longtime President Hosni Mubarak, said Thomas Maher, the company’s vice president and general manager in Egypt. Apache’s production, drilling opportunities and payments from the government have been largely unaffected, and the company sees growth continuing, Maher said in a telephone interview.

“We’re in a sweet spot now in Egypt,” Maher said. “All through the three years of the revolution, it hasn’t affected our operations.”

…About 60 percent of Apache’s production in Egypt is oil, most of which it exports…Maher said…

Yet despite the setbacks that the movement for the democratization of Egyptian society experienced in 2013 and early 2014, in recent months workers in Egypt have apparently continued to struggle for economic justice and more economic democracy within Egyptian society by starting to go out on strike again. As The Militant noted in its March 31, 2014 issue, “since December 2013, more than 100,000 workers, including in steel, textile, transport and postal sectors, have gone on strike” and “most of these actions have been around unpaid wages…”

So don’t be surprised if the struggle for full political, economic, and cultural democratization of Egyptian society — like the struggle for a fully democratic society in Texas and the rest of the “United States of Amnesia” (to borrow the words of the late Gore Vidal) — continues during the rest of the 21st-century.

Read the entire “People’s History of Egypt” series here.

[Bob Feldman is an East Coast-based writer-activist and a former member of the Columbia SDS Steering Committee of the late 1960s. Read more articles by Bob Feldman on The Rag Blog.]

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