Thursday, February 10, 2011

Layer 441 . . . Egypt, Mubarak, Resignation, Revolution, Detentions, Torture, Scapegoating and Banking

Egypt, bankers, and public expenditure cutbacks continue to dominate the news, but here's an interesting piece by Zoe Williams on the Tories' continuing efforts to discriminate in favour of married couples:

All Iain Duncan Smith's rot about marriage disguises a tired old taboo

The guff Duncan Smith talks about commitment shows what really drives him: painting cohabiting couples as an aberration


Hosni Mubarak 'may step down'
Ruling party officials suggest Egypt's president will 'meet protesters demands', ahead of televised statement.

The Supreme Council of Egyptian Armed Forces has met to discuss the ongoing protests against the government of Hosni Mubarak, the president.

In a statement entitled 'Communique Number One', televised on state television, the army said it had convened the meeting response to the current political turmoil, and that it would continue to convene such meetings.

Thurday's meeting was chaired by Mohamed Tantawi, the defence minister, rather than Mubarak, who, as president, would normally have headed the meeting.

"Based on the responsibility of the armed forces and its commitment to protect the people and its keenness to protect the nation... and in support of the legitimate demands of the people [the army] will continue meeting on a continuous basis to examine measures to be taken to protect the nation and its gains and the ambitions of the great Egyptian people," the statement.

The army's statement was met with a roar of approval from protesters in Tahrir Square as vast crowds poured into the area.

Earlier, Hassan al-Roweni, an Egyptian army commander, told protesters in the square that "everything you want will be realised".


Mubarak resignation rumours grow

PM and army officials suggest Hosni Mubarak may step down as state television says Egyptian president will address nation soon

President Hosni Mubarak's rule appears to be on the brink of collapse after senior politicians said they expect him to relinquish power in the coming hours as strikes and demonstrations spread across the country.

The prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, told the BBC that he believed Mubarak would step down and that the situation in the country will be clarified soon.

Hossam Badrawi, the new secretary general of the ruling party, was quoted in the state press as saying that he has requested Mubarak to transfer his powers to his vice-president, Omar Suleiman, and that he expects him to resign this evening. But he later told state television that no decision had been made.

General Hassan al-Roueini, the military commander for the Cairo, told the crowds packed in to Cairo's Tahrir square, the epicentre of the protests to demand Mubarak's resignation, that: "All your demands will be met today". The tens of thousands of people let up a deafening cheer and chants of: "The people and army are one".


Unfortunately this may not be the case, according to this morning's Guardian:

Egypt's army 'involved in detentions and torture'

Military accused by human rights campaigners of targeting hundreds of anti-government protesters

The Egyptian military has secretly detained hundreds and possibly thousands of suspected government opponents since mass protests against President Hosni Mubarak began, and at least some of these detainees have been tortured, according to testimony gathered by the Guardian.

The military has claimed to be neutral, merely keeping anti-Mubarak protesters and loyalists apart. But human rights campaigners say this is clearly no longer the case, accusing the army of involvement in both disappearances and torture – abuses Egyptians have for years associated with the notorious state security intelligence (SSI) but not the army.

The Guardian has spoken to detainees who say they have suffered extensive beatings and other abuses at the hands of the military in what appears to be an organised campaign of intimidation. Human rights groups have documented the use of electric shocks on some of those held by the army.

Egyptian human rights groups say families are desperately searching for missing relatives who have disappeared into army custody. Some of the detainees have been held inside the renowned Museum of Egyptian Antiquities on the edge of Tahrir Square. Those released have given graphic accounts of physical abuse by soldiers who accused them of acting for foreign powers, including Hamas and Israel.

Among those detained have been human rights activists, lawyers and journalists, but most have been released. However, Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights in Cairo, said hundreds, and possibly thousands, of ordinary people had "disappeared" into military custody across the country for no more than carrying a political flyer, attending the demonstrations or even the way they look. Many were still missing.

"Their range is very wide, from people who were at the protests or detained for breaking curfew to those who talked back at an army officer or were handed over to the army for looking suspicious or for looking like foreigners even if they were not," he said. "It's unusual and to the best of our knowledge it's also unprecedented for the army to be doing this."


The west's debt to Egypt

After actively supporting Mubarak's corrupt and violent rule, the west has a duty to help end it

by Ahmed Salah

This week has seen the biggest protest in the history of Egypt. Millions have demonstrated in Cairo and other cities all over the country – north, south, east, and west. All had the same demands. The first, as the world knows now, is that the dictator Hosni Mubarak must step down.

We managed to lay siege to the parliament, the government, and the notorious ministry of interior, sites that have witnessed the murder and injury of hundreds of Egyptians, and where I was hit by a sniper's rubber bullet. This was proof that – contrary to the regime's belief that time is on their side, and that the revolution will grow weaker as protesters tire and lose momentum – the revolution is actually getting stronger by the day.

This revolution is not for bread as much as for freedom. It was made principally by the educated, rather than the crushed poorer classes. And it is getting more and more popular as Egyptians balance values such as democracy, freedom, justice, dignity and transparency on one hand, and despotism, oppression, injustice, humiliation and corruption on the other.

Understanding this, the regime has gone back to the language of threats. So, the newly appointed vice-president, former intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, now warns that he won't tolerate this much longer and that Mubarak is not leaving any time soon. Meanwhile, security forces are still kidnapping, interrogating and torturing activists, even taking them from their homes. Some of them are still in unknown locations. They do not understand that we, the activists, no longer control the will of the people. The will of the people has its own impulse and power.

But why is this regime clinging to power so hard? Why are they willing to do whatever it takes to stay in control? They still murder protesters in parts of the country where they believe they can get away with it. On Tuesday they shot dead two and injured scores more in the city of Sohag, in the south. On Monday dozens were injured in the Oasis of Elkharga after live bullets were fired at them. The regime is doing this only to protect its loot. The wealth of Mubarak, in British and Swiss banks alone, is estimated at between $40bn and $70bn. And what about his bank accounts in other countries, property and real estate, gold and diamonds? He is not alone, either. All members of his regime, past and present, have huge fortunes in western banks that resulted directly from obscene corruption.

Why has the west been silent about this corruption, about the terrible violations of human rights in Egypt and the region, and about the torture and killing? The west, including the UK, has been complicit in all these crimes by providing support and safe havens. It has mistakenly believed that democracy and freedom is dangerous if implemented in the Middle East, fearing that Islamists would take power.

The world can see now, in both Tunisia and Egypt, how false this assumption was. It is clear those revolutions encompass all elements of society and seek values aspired to by people around the world – the most important of which is freedom. We were systematically punished for decades for a notion that only resides in the minds of western politicians and the lies of tyrants. We lived in a police state, occupied by a two million-strong militarised police force. Given this, isn't there now a moral responsibility that the west bears?

Britain, and other western powers, must take a moral stand in support of the people of Egypt and their demand for the right to be free. This should not be mere diplomatic words: real tangible support should include measures to ensure power is passed to the people, and to put an end to the regime's efforts to kill this revolution.

This is the least compensation our people deserve for the years of western support for these injustices. The money looted from Egypt should be returned and a democratic government should use it to resolve the huge problems this regime has been creating for decades. Dare we hope that these calls for support won't be ignored again?


Not 1989. Not 1789. But Egyptians can learn from other revolutions

Ecstatic crowds in Cairo prove there is no clash of civilisations – everyone wants freedom. The question is, how to get it?

by Timothy Garton Ash

Before we go any further, let us make two deep bows. First and deepest to those who started this, at great personal risk, with no support from the professedly freedom-loving west, and against a regime that habitually uses torture. Honour and respect to you. Second, hats off to Lady Luck, contingency, fortuna – which, as Machiavelli observed, accounts for half of everything that happens in human affairs. No revolution has ever got anywhere without brave individuals and good luck.


Beyond Tahrir: Two faces of Egypt

On the one hand there is vice-president Omar Suleiman, and on the other young activist Wael Ghonim


On the very day when the old regime was hoping the revolution would run out of steam, it instead gathered fresh strength. But Tahrir is now as much a cul-de-sac politically as it has become physically. It cannot be abandoned by the protesters because it is symbolically too important, yet just being in Tahrir is not enough. On the other hand, the regime cannot clear the square by the use of force because that would be the wrong kind of victory for them. Some protesters now want to march to parliament or to the headquarters of state TV. They may do so, but the real struggle is now as much about information as location.


Cameron's scapegoating will have a chilling, toxic impact

Blaming Islamists and multiculturalism for the backlash from US and British wars risks fuelling violence on the streets

by Seumas Milne

By blaming the threat of terrorism on multiculturalism, Cameron has signalled that ethnic minority policy will now be driven by an alarmingly skewed conception of state security.

And by branding political Islam as extremist, he's playing on the ignorance of those for whom Muslim and Islamist are as good as indistinguishable. What is called Islamism includes a wide spectrum of political trends, peaceful and violent, socially conservative and progressive, from Turkey's ruling party to al-Qaida. Mainstream Islamists, certainly including almost all the groups Cameron is now casting into outer darkness, are in fact committed to democratic freedoms.

What Cameron and the bulk of the British political class cannot acknowledge is that their continued support for the war on terror and occupation of Afghanistan, far from keeping the streets safe, is the crucial factor in the continuing threat of terrorism in Britain.

The revolutionary upheavals taking place in Tunisia and Egypt should offer the western powers a chance to change direction. After all, backing for despots across the Arab worlds such as Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak has long been one of the central grievances at the heart of Islamist (and nationalist) politics, in the region and beyond. It would be bizarre if just as the British and other western governments are having to come to terms with Islamist movements in the Middle East, they were treating their counterparts at home as enemies of the state.

The practical policy consequences of Cameron's neocon turn may be modest. But its wider impact is likely to be chilling and poisonous. If the government's message is that peaceful independent Muslim political activism is beyond the pale, it won't just be regarded as hypocritical and undemocratic – it will strengthen the hand of those committed to violence.


Politicians and bankers: Struggle for power

The truth is that Gordon Brown and David Cameron have both failed to stand up to the City


Yesterday's parliamentary debate degenerated into an argument over which party had been weakest in tackling the banks. The truth is that Gordon Brown and David Cameron have both failed to stand up to the City. Less than three years on from the worst financial crisis in a lifetime, ministers of all stripes have simply let bankers get back to business as usual.

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