Archive for category Arab Spring

Massacres in Egypt reveal the interim military government for what it is

Wael Abdelgawad |

The massacre of over 2,000 protesters in Egypt today, and the return to a “state of emergency”, must be recognized as a turning point. Either all nations must expressly condemn this illegitimate military government and press for General Al-Sisi to immediately step down, or Egypt may follow Syria’s road into civil war. Sisi has revealed himself as a criminal and a murderer.

The American and European governments (with their tepid comments) have shown themselves to be hypocrites, supporting democracy only as long as they like the winner.

I shake my head at the young Egyptians who think this could be in any way good for Egypt. The security forces responsible for today’s massacres are the exact same murderers and torturers who have ruled Egypt for decades. They are the same ones who took people away during the night to be tortured and killed. Under them, Egypt had one of the worst human rights records in the world. And you trust these people to lead you?

Some say that the photos of pre-coup protests against Morsi were inflated or doctored. They say that the pro-Morsi demonstrations were much larger than reported. Who knows? What I do know is that democracy isn’t based on who has the larger protest. The only way to legitimately weigh the leanings of the people is through the ballot box. In a democracy, the ballot box is how we express or satisfaction or discontent. The ballot box is how we effect change.

Morsi is the only elected president Egypt has ever had. His opponents should have campaigned against him, organized and overthrown him legitimately at the next election. To remove him through military action was illegal. The youth who supported the coup are immature and naive. When you invite the wolf back in and give him control of the farm, this is what you get.

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Libya has an opportunity to become the first Arab Spring state to end torture

Prison guard in a prison in Libya

A prison guard stands near prisoners who are suspected of being fighters for Muammar Gaddafi at a post office, where they are being detained, in Joumaa market district in Tripoli August 30, 2011. REUTERS/Youssef Boudlal

By Wael Abdelgawad |

One of the things the people fought for in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya was to end torture and the government culture of impunity. The newly liberated people in these nations must not, cannot, continue the abuses that they fought so hard to overturn.

In Tunisia and Egypt, the revolutions are incomplete. Figures from the old regimes remain in power, and the cultures of government repression and police torture have not changed.

Libya may be a different story. The Libyan revolution was a hard and bitter fight compared to Tunisia and Egypt; but the upside of this may be that all regime figures have been swept away. Libya has an opportunity to build something new from the ground up.

One area in need of immediate attention is the justice system.

In new liberated Libya, more than 7,000 prisoners are being held in dozens of makeshift prisons. The men are packed into tiny, dingy cells where they remain without charges or trial, according to human rights groups and recent detainees. Some have been subjected to torture, according to reports.

I’m not saying that I don’t understand where this comes from. Libya is in a state of semi-chaos right now. The various prisons are being run by militias who fought for liberation. The militias are undisciplined and unregulated, while the prisoners they are guarding are former Gaddafi soldiers and mercenaries, many of whom committed atrocities. The militias’ anger is still fresh, and their desire for vengeance must run deep.

”Some of these [pro-Gaddafi] people raped, some killed. There was vandalism. They tortured us; they killed kids,” said Abdel Gader Abu Shaallah, who oversees two other makeshift prisons in Misrata.

But the liberators are no longer rebels. Libya is free, and the government must act quickly to bring all institutions under state control, and to make sure that abuses are stopped. No matter what crimes the prisoners are accused of, if torture is allowed to take place, then the liberators become little better than the government they fought so hard to replace.

Amnesty International issued a report in early October saying Libya’s new rulers were in danger of repeating human rights abuses commonplace under Gaddafi. The NTC said it would look into the report.

Fortunately, the reports of torture seem to be isolated rather than systematic; and the resolve to end the abuses seems to be there. ”We joined the revolution to end such mistreatment, not to see it continue in any form,” Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril told Human Rights Watch.

Now what remains is to implement this ideal.

I call upon the Libyan government to act decisively to make their justice system fair and transparent; to clearly and strongly prohibit torture within their jails and prisons; and to punish (or at least remove from authority) anyone guilty of committing these abuses.

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The Arab Spring

Meadow with purple and white flowers

By Wael Abdelgawad |

I know I’ve been quiet on the subject of the “Arab Spring” – the pro-democracy movement sweeping the Arab world. It’s not for lack of caring. Actually the Arabic satellite news plays in our house every day, we discuss the events daily, and I have written about them on other blogs.

These are heady, inspiring times. The Tunisian people’s revolution that kicked the whole thing off, demonstrated the power of mass peaceful protest. People who are unafraid, who say, “We won’t take this anymore” and are ready to back up that statement with their own lives, can do anything.

When Egypt followed suit, at first the analysts said, “Don’t get ahead of yourselves, the case of Egypt is different, the mukhabarat (secret police) are powerful.” But at the time I wrote on another blog,

I am sure that when the first youth went out in Tunisia to demonstrate against the dictator Ben Ali, their families said to them, “What? Are you crazy? You are just some kids, you will never get rid of Ben Ali, this is insanity.” And now look. The dictator has fled, political parties have been unbanned, the press is free, political prisoners have been freed, and all because of some youth with a dream who would not listen to those who told them, “No.”

As I write this, plainclothes police and paid thugs are shooting at the Egyptian youth in Tahrir square. Some of you may be thinking, “This dream of freedom for Egypt is over.” You know what? Don’t count them out yet. The power of an idea cannot be underestimated. The power of one man, one woman, standing up and pursuing a dream of freedom against all odds, cannot be calculated. They are not giving up on their dream. We will see what tomorrow brings. I am praying for the people of Egypt tonight, praying for the youth, praying for justice, praying for freedom. My hands are trembling as I write this. But I’m not giving up on the power of a dream. There is no change and no power except by God!

Later, after Mubarak resigned, I wrote,

Mubarak the dictator is gone. But the January 25th revolution must continue until all the corrupt old guard are gone. The killers and torturers of Khaled Said and so many other innocents must be brought to justice. The voice of the people must be respected, and their freedom assured.

What has happened is a huge first step, a historic moment. It is a tremendous victory for the people and the youth. A new age has dawned on Egypt. Now ahead lies the journey.

Remembering the Fallen

A few months have gone by since I wrote that, and the Arab Spring continues to unfold. Protests continue in Yemen and Syria, with both governments acting brutally to repress the people. In Syria in particular, the government has treated its own citizens as enemies. And of course in Libya the terrible drama continues, with Gaddafi entrenched and making war on his people.

I want to take a moment to honor the sacrifices of the brave protesters in these nations. These people are painting a signpost to the future with their own blood. The Libyan officers who were murdered by Gaddafi when they refused to issue orders to fire on the people; the Egyptian youth who were arrested and disappeared in the early days of the protests; the many innocents gunned down in Syria; they are all heroes whose names may not be recorded in history books, but who are changing the world.


Recent events in Palestine are the latest twist. First, popular protests forced Fateh and Hamas to reconcile, to the fury of the Israelis. Then, on the anniversary of Al-Nakba (the Great Catastrophe – what the Palestinians call the creation of the state of Israel), unarmed Palestinians marched and approached various Israeli checkpoints. The Israelis responded with their usual cold hearted brutality, opening fire with live ammo, killing at least twelve protesters.

Now I wonder, does this herald a new direction for the Palestinian freedom movement? Not armed conflict, nor the endless futile attempts to negotiate with the intransigent Israelis, but continuous peaceful protest? If so, I think it could represent a powerful and dramatic change of direction.

Hopes for the Future

Last year – before the Arab Spring began – I wrote in a poem,

I want the Muslim people
to find their power, art,
science; and the quiet joy
of worship and God’s love.
Let them step into the century
free from tyranny, standing tall
with faith as hope and heart.
Let them drink from the bubbling spring
of the Quran.
Let them breathe.
Let them free themselves
and transform the world.

I have a dream for the Arab world, and the Muslim world in general. I have a dream of a Muslim world informed by faith, but in which all religions are free to practice without restriction. I have a dream of a Muslim world liberated from kings and military dictators. I have a dream of a Muslim world governed by the people, whether that takes the form of multi-party democracies, parliamentary systems, or Islamic-style shura systems. I have a dream of a Muslim world where everyone can speak freely without fear of being arrested and tortured.

I have a dream of a Muslim world that embraces science, education and technological development, in ways that are respectful of the environment. I have a dream of a Muslim world where people can find jobs, and where business and trade are encouraged and not limited by corruption and nepotism. I have a dream of a Muslim world that follows a path of development based on faith, fairness and respect for all living creatures; rather than the Western model of consumerism and corporate greed. I have a dream of a Muslim world with strong cultural and trade ties between nations, where the huge variety of cultures and races in the Ummah is seen as a blessing.

Can my dream ever become real? I don’t know, but if it can, then the events we are seeing today in the Arab world are the first step.

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