Friday, 4 February 2011

First draft of history

Esam al-Amin's article in Counterpunch on the Egyptian government's emergency response to the protest movement in Egypt is fascinating. I haven't often merely linked to other articles but this is a very special piece of reporting, a first draft of history that has the ring of truth. I was also jealous of his quote from Lenin at the beginning: "There are decades when nothing happens; and there are weeks when decades happen." That was what I meant to say last week when I wrote: "If one week is a long time in politics, one month can bring as much change as a whole generation," but Lenin said it so much better.

The key section, describing the meeting which decided to use thugs against the protest movement, runs thus:
    Meanwhile, the last touches of a crude plan to abort the protests and attack the demonstrators were being finalized in the Interior Ministry. In the mean time, the leaders of the NPD (ruling National Democratic Party) met with the committee of forty, which is a committee of corrupt oligarchs and tycoons, who have taken over major sections of Egypt’s economy in the last decade and are close associates to Jamal Mubarak, the president’s son. The committee included Ahmad Ezz, Ibrahim Kamel, Mohamad Abu el-Enein, Magdy Ashour and others.
    Each businessman pledged to recruit as many people from their businesses and industries as well as mobsters and hoodlums known as Baltagies – people who are paid to fight and cause chaos and terror. Abu el-Enein and Kamel pledged to finance the whole operation.Meanwhile,the Interior Minister reconstituted some of the most notorious officers of his secret police to join the counter-revolutionary demonstrators slated for Wednesday, with a specific plan of attack the pro-democracy protesters.
    About a dozen security officers, who were to supervise the plan in the field, also recruited former dangerous ex-prisoners who escaped the prison last Saturday, promising them money and presidential pardons against their convictions. This plan was to be executed in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez, Port Said, Damanhour, Asyout, among other cities across Egypt.
    About two hours before the main assault began at about 2 p.m. on Wednesday, an acquaintance has a telephone conversation with an "old guard" cabinet minister, who was ecstatic about the way events were moving. He said that pro-Mubarak demonstrations had broken out across the country and the protest movement was as good as finished. Just by chance I came out of the Arab League building in Tahrir Square at 1.50 p.m., past the museum into Abdel Moneim Square to the northeast. The atmosphere was very tense, with scores of baltagiya thugs advancing southwards. I kept well out of the way and had a very clear view of the horses and camels coming down the ramp off the October 6 Bridge,  a moment that will remain an iconic image of the uprising.
    I then headed up Ramses Street. where there were pockets of pro-Mubarak people heading towards Tahrir. There were not all thugs, by any means. One image struck me as particularly odd -- a plump middle-aged woman in hijab alone in the driving seat of a smart new saloon, clearly middle-class and prosperous. She was waving an Egyptian flag and she leant out of the window as I passed and shouted "We've won!" When I failed to share her glee, she tittered "Hee, hee, hee" with pure schadenfreude. The image has been haunting me on and off for the last few days, as I tried to imagine who she might have been and what motive drove her to behave in such a way.
    That set me thinking about the National Democratic Party, the party of Sadat and Mubarak, and how political scientists would define it. It was never a party in the conventional sense, just a patronage network and simultaneously the political branch of the state. In recent years it has served as a vehicle for businessmen too busy for full-time politics to have a voice in the government's economic policies, in the end with disastrous results. In television footage that day and the next I remember seeing young NDP men shouting into passing cameras slogans such as 'Hosni Mubarak is our leader', not exactly a very political message, certainly not compared with the protest movement's chants of 'Freedom'. Mohamad Abu el-Enein's commercial properties, incidentally, were prime targets in the city of Suez, where clashes between the protest movement and the riot police were particularly violent. A curious aspect of the state media campaign against the protest movement, orchestrated by Information Minister Anas el-Fiki, has been the bizarre claim that the movement is an American and Israeli conspiracy. State television has been too painful to watch for long periods, but whenever I flicked through it, I found second-tier 'celebrities' reiterating the theory. Esam al-Amin writes that Fiki took part in one of the main planning meetings for the counter-attack. Fiki is now of the protest movement's prime targets and I expect his days in power are numbered.             

1 comment:

  1. Regarding your comments on the NDP... One evening in Feb. 2009, I think it was, I asked Ali Dessouki, then as now I think the Media secretary of the party, to explain to me what it was that the Party actually stands for. He seemed surprised by the question and answered only with a roar of laughter. I guess to me that said it all.

    Thanks for your great reporting, Jonathan! (Did you get my email? Let me know if not.