Category Archives: Human Rights

#Jan25

I wasn’t in Egypt yesterday because I’m in Turkey, but I have been glued to Twitter, Facebook, my Gmail contacts list, and the media reports, trying to get a grasp on the situation and getting inspired by everything I’ve seen and read.

The most exciting aspect of yesterday’s demonstrations is the sheer scale. Accurate crowd estimates are difficult to ascertain, but even the Ministry of the Interior put the number of protesters in Cairo at 10,000, which makes me suspect that the real number is much higher. Some activists suggested that there were over 100,000 people there, which seems a bit dubious. No matter what, though, the number is clearly the biggest in a long while, perhaps since the bread riots of 1977, though maybe comparable to the demonstrations against the invasion of Iraq in 2003. But there are important differences between the 2003 protests and yesterday’s: First, in 2003, Egyptians were demonstrating against an external issue, even if it is one tangentially related to their US-backed dictator. Second, those protests were almost exclusively in Cairo, whereas yesterday demonstrations took place throughout the country.

Related to the size and geographic diversity of the protests is that they were a decentralized movement. Much of the organization and mobilization may have taken place on Facebook via the We Are All Khaled Said group (through which 90,000 people said they planned to attend demonstrations), but the turnout seems like it was much more diverse than the usual web-savvy crowd. I’ve been to a number of pro-democracy demonstrations in Cairo and it’s typical to see the same handful of activists at each. Yesterday seemed to attract a different crowd.

A friend in Cairo who was in Tahrir Square yesterday, the site of the main protest, put it this way in a Gchat conversation: “you can find cooperation between youth with beard and girls wearing foreign clothes.” Check out the video below from Al Jazeera English at around 2:05, where a older, middle-class-looking woman goes on a rant about the government. She’s not the typical Cairo protestor.

The question now is what will happen next. Can Egyptians, inspired by Tunisia, sustain a month-long rebellion and bring down their dictator? Everyone I have talked to is taking a very wait-and-see approach. An activist friend in Cairo wrote to me:

I think this is a ripe moment to call for a nation-wide strike so that no one goes to work and more people empty into the streets – but I somehow doubt that will happen. It is much easier for people to go to a mass protest/rally than to miss a day of work – a nation-wide strike really assumes certain privileges that most people (including most of the people that were out yesterday!) do not have. That’s why 6th April and 5th May and all those movements never really got anywhere.

It is still early in the day in Egypt as I write this. Demonstrations may pick up again after school and work get out. On the other hand, I’ve heard people say they fear that Egyptians will now sit back, satisfied that they made their point yesterday and unwilling to continue. Moreover, I think that after yesterday the regime will want to clamp down quickly. Mubarak, I fear, has learned from Ben Ali’s mistakes. (Good thing the New York Times was willing to give him advice!)

Yesterday’s protests were, without a doubt, violent. See this video of the police evacuating Tahrir Square with tear gas and rubber bullets for evidence. But they weren’t nearly as violent as they could have been or, for that matter, as violent as I would have expected. But the Ministry of the Interior has already stated that they will not allow more protests and if the day of anger turns into a week of anger or a month of anger, I think the government will be more heavy handed as they try to prevent a Tunisia situation. I’m afraid the future could hold lot more beatings, arrests and maybe even live fire than we saw yesterday, when three people died.

For now we have to wait and see. I’ll be sitting at my perch in Istanbul, aching to be in downtown Cairo as I watch videos of the much-hated Central Security Forces firing tear gas and rubber bullets at crowds that include my friends.

Photo by Sarah Carr from Flickr

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Filed under Democracy, Egypt, Human Rights

Ece Temelkuran on Turkey’s minority issues

There’s a fascinating and wide-ranging interview with Turkish journalist Ece Temelkuran on the New Left Project‘s website. Temelkuran has written extensively on Turkey’s issues with minorities and a lot on her book about Armenia. A few choice excerpts follow.

On the Armenian issue in Turkey today:

There is huge propaganda in the schools against Armenians, but it’s not only that. It’s on the street, it’s everywhere. ‘Armenian’ is a curse word in Turkish, still. And when you ask people about Armenians, you get this blank expression. It’s like you’ve entered the wrong password and their brain just stops, and the password is ‘Armenian’. They go blank. Especially in south-east Turkey, when you see an Armenian church and ask about it people will say ‘oh, it’s prehistoric’, although it dates back only to 1915. And when you insist on this question – ‘this is an Armenian church’, ‘where are the Armenians?’, etc. – if they don’t get angry with you they will say, ‘oh, the Armenians are gone. They are gone.’ And if you ask, ‘where did they go?’ ‘They went over the bridge’. And beyond that, it’s blank again. In Istanbul there are many Armenian buildings and you don’t really see them or think about them.

On Kurds and Armenians:

Well, when it comes to the Armenians the Kurds were also the perpetrators once. Today, politically, they have accepted their responsibility, while the state hasn’t yet. The BDP, a Kurdish party, offered such a declaration, acknowledging that ‘our ancestors did such and such to Armenians, and we apologise for that’. More broadly, for the time being, there is this undercurrent among people in Turkey, and it’s also true for Kurds, where people are looking back to try and discover their roots. And having Armenian roots became kind of ‘hip’. Now and then I hear people saying, ‘you know what? My grandmother had no relatives, so we might be Armenian’, or ‘I remember my grandfather talking in a weird language, so we might be Armenian too’. Especially after the death of Hrant [Dink, a prominent Turkish-Armenian journalist gunned down in 2007 by a Turkish nationalist], becoming Armenian started to be ‘cool’, and I think this represents another role for Turkish people – they don’t want to be the ‘perpetrators’ after Hrant’s death, because that killing touched their hearts, so they want to move to the ‘victim’ side by having Armenian roots.

On coming from the oppressor’s side:

Writing the book was intellectually challenging as well, because there was this ontological security issue. Although I don’t represent anyone but me, I was coming from the ‘side’ of the perpetrator, and I was telling the story of the oppressed. So do I have the right to do that? How should I do that? During my time in Oxford Bernhard Schlink, the writer of The Reader – he’s a German jurist and an author – was there giving seminars on collective memory and collective guilt, and I joined one of them. He was talking about his guilt, and his generation’s guilt, over the Holocaust. After a while, following the speech, a Palestinian Oxford student asked him what he thought about the ‘Holocaust industry’, and he said ‘there is no such thing’. I asked a question, ‘what do you think about the fact that a nation is building up its hostile foreign policy on your feeling of guilt?’ He said, ‘I don’t want to talk about it’ – no, he said ‘I cannot talk about it, because I am German.’ So that was a great example of this phenomenon where if you’re coming from the perpetrator’s side you’re obliged to shut up and not talk about it. And I don’t think that’s correct – we should talk about it.

That’s probably enough excerpts. Read the whole interview here.

I think the issues surrounding minorities in Turkey are, to a certain extent, unique because of the intensity of Turkish nationalism. Nationalism plays a bigger role in social consciousness here than it does in any other country I’ve been to, possibly with the exception of Israel. Chauvinism exists everywhere (we all know how common it is in the U.S.) but in relatively new nation-states like Turkey (and Israel) it is more pronounced, more public and more vehement.

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Filed under Human Rights, Turkey

Way better than Christmas

Want to know what I thought about Police Day? (It was a national holiday here today.) You can read all about it in The Faster Times:

Today Egyptians around the country have off from work and school in recognition of a new national holiday: Police Day. The Mubarak regime, it seems, has a sense of humor after all.

Or maybe it’s not meant to be ironic. Police play a crucial role in this country, which is, for all intents and purposes, a police state. The government wants to celebrate the police for making Egypt the country that it is today.

Read the rest here!

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Filed under Egypt, Human Rights, Life Abroad, Links, Media

Is the CIA addicted to torture?

The Guardian reported the day before yesterday that the Central Intelligence Agency is “working closely” Palestinian security forces who are known to torture Hamas members.

Of course, this isn’t shocking. CIA has a long tradition of supporting regimes that torture, murder, and violate human rights in any number of ways. This is in Latin America, in the Middle East, around the world. In pursuit of American interests overseas, Washington is almost always willing to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses. American support for Egypt is, naturally, the first example that comes to my mind.

This isn’t to say that CIA support for Fatah torturers shouldn’t be condemned. This is important because this fits in with a pattern of torturing Islamist militants that has developed over the last eight years.

Barack Obama has said he wants to end torture and secret imprisonment. So far his movement in this direction has been slow. Despite a brief flutter of excitement over the summer when Attorney General Eric Holder said there would be an investigation, it seems clear that those who condoned and practiced torture during the Bush Administration will not be held accountable. Meanwhile, the Guantanamo prison remains open eleven months after Barack Obama took office. Just now are American policymakers seriously talking about what to do with the prisoners.

There has been no new evidence of CIA or American military torturing people in the last year (correct me on this if I’m wrong), but it could happen again. I think that during the Bush Administration, the CIA was let off the chain when it comes to torture and now they’re hooked.

Something comparable happened during the early years of the Cold War when CIA got very comfortable using covert operations to take out regimes in the Third World. Once they started they couldn’t stop, even after it became clear that the tactic didn’t always work out. See Bay of Pigs after the 1957 Syrian Crisis, for example.

The Central Intelligence Agency is prone to going rogue. I think it’s in the organization’s nature. Because much of what they do is clandestine, they are able to resist scrutiny from outside. In the 1950s and 1960s this meant that they could plot assassinations and coups with impunity. Now it means that they can torture prisoners and assist others in torture.

The exposure of CIA complicity in the torture of Hamas members in Palestine is not surprising. It is, however, yet another indication that the organization needs to be reigned in.

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Filed under American Politics, Human Rights, Intelligence, Israel-Palestine

More death by torture in Egypt’s jails

It seems clear that Youssef Abu Zuhri, the brother of a Hamas leader, was tortured to death in an Egyptian prison last week. If you want some gruesome proof, Zenobia is running photos that I am frankly too squeamish to embed.

My sympathies don’t lie with Hamas, but that has nothing to do with this. No matter what your ideology is you have to stand against beating people to death in prisons. It is simply savage. Sadly, this was not an isolated incident in Egypt. (And yes, I know that my own government has done the same. Let’s hope it’s stopped.)

Hossam asks the right question: “He’s neither a blogger nor secular… will the international human rights watchdogs, like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, demand an investigation into the death of Youssef Abu Zuhri in Mubarak’s Gulag?”

I hope so.  You can contact Amnesty here and Human Rights Watch here. Let them know that no one, not even an alleged “extremist” deserves this kind of treatment.

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Filed under Egypt, Human Rights