The International Reporting (and Life) Adventures of Vivian Salama

Archive for July, 2012

Class Divisions in Egypt Make a Comeback

Posted by vmsalama on July 23, 2012

by Vivian Salama

Al-Monitor (click here for original story)

July 22, 2012

CAIRO — Moustafa Talaat takes long puffs of his Marlboro cigarette while reminiscing over the impassioned days of the Egyptian revolution. Every afternoon in February 2011, the Egyptian native of Zamalek, an affluent neighborhood in Cairo, would leave his engineering job by noon — no one was working any way — and head to Tahrir Square to join the masses calling for an end to the reign of Hosni Mubarak.

On one particular day in the square, he recalls: “A man asked me for a cigarette. He was uneducated, wore slippers and a galabeya (a traditional ankle-length garment) — a simple man.” He pauses, reflecting deeply on the brief encounter. “We talked for a little bit and it occurred to me that until then, I never really mingled with the lower cl…” He stopped — embarrassed to complete the thought.

The C-word is making a comeback into Egyptian rhetoric, embalmed since the reign of Gamal Abdel Nasser when socialism camouflaged class distinctions and set a tone for the empowerment of Egypt’s working class. The experiment was brief, and the existence of significant class divisions never ceased to exist. However, acknowledgement grew increasingly taboo, prompting many in Egypt to shy away from the very realities that may have fueled certain elements of the Arab Spring.

With Egypt’s first free-and-fair presidential election now one for the history books, its impact on the social dynamic of the country may have had a more lasting effect on society than the political transition itself. To many here, Mohamed Morsi, the commoner-turned-president, represents far more than a victory for the revolution. Just as many African-Americans perceived Barack Obama’s win as a milestone for their community, many in Egypt see Morsi as an ally for the lower-income citizens of Egypt. His opponent, Ahmed Shafiq, by contrast, bore an association with the very elitism linked to the Mubarak regime and represented a premature demise of the Egyptian struggle. Even as Morsi rides out his honeymoon period with the Egyptian populace, he has not yet won the hearts and minds of many, particularly those who perceive him as “different,” whether for ideological or socio-economic reasons. (more…)


Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Hosni Mubarak, Islam, Middle East, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Politics, Protests, Religion, Salafi | Leave a Comment »

Mubarak’s Spy Chief, Omar Suleiman, Dies

Posted by vmsalama on July 19, 2012

The Daily Beast

July 19, 2012

By Vivian Salama

In less than a day, two of the Arab world’s most renowned spooks are dead.

Hours after the assassination of Syria’s former intelligence chief Assef Shawkat in a suicide bombing, the longtime head of the Egyptian mukhabarrat(intelligence) Omar Suleiman has died, sparking finger-pointing and conspiracy theories on the streets and tweets over who to blame.

Suleiman, 76, who briefly served as the first and last vice president under Hosni Mubarak during last year’s revolution, suffered from cardiac problems triggered by lung disease, state-run Middle East News Agency reported. His health took a turn for the worse about three weeks ago when he traveled to a Cleveland hospital for treatment, MENA reported. An aid told Reuters that he “was fine” shortly before his death.

“Hell is having a mukhabarrat party,” read one Tweet shortly after the news went viral.

During the 2011 uprisings that sought to topple Mubarak, Suleiman became an internationally recognized figure as the newly-named vice president with decades of hands-on experience on national security issues. However, long before the revolution, he was a household name across the Middle East for his role as head of Egypt’s infamous intelligence apparatus. Born in the Upper Egypt town of Qena, Suleiman enlisted in the army in 1954, and later received training at the Soviet Union’s Frunze Military Academy. He served in the military during Egypt’s 1962 involvement in the North Yemen war, as well as in the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars. In 1986, he was named the deputy head of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service and climbed through the ranks, reaching the top spot in 1993. (click here to read more…)

Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, C.I.A., Clinton, dictatorship, Egypt, Elections, Hosni Mubarak, Middle East, Mubarak, Omar Suleiman, Terrorism, United States | Leave a Comment »

Chat with a former Egyptian soldier

Posted by vmsalama on July 18, 2012

Had a fascinating chat with a 25-year old man who until 6 months ago, served in the Egyptian military as a tank driver. He was assigned to the Rafah post, the Egyptian border city with Gaza. Here are some excerpts from our discussion:

“I was in the middle of nowhere when the revolution started last year. We didn’t really understand what was happening. We heard people are in Tahrir protesting and we heard that our colleagues in the military were clashing with them. If I was there, I would have joined the people to protest, but I wouldn’t have fought with the soldiers. they are my brothers.

[WHERE WERE YOU WHEN MUBARAK RESIGNED?] We didn’t know anything about it until 5-6 days later. We didn’t believe it. Imagine you are in the desert and somebody tells you Hosni Mubarak resigned — you wouldn’t believe it. You’ll laugh and tell him he’s dreaming! It wasn’t until a soldier came from Cairo and told us what happened that we really said ‘oh. this is real!’ And even then, I didn’t REALLY believe it until I returned to Cairo 6 months ago. It was like traveling to another world. The city was so different. Even the people were different. I have been back for 6 months now and I am still not used to it.
“We used to sleep in a school in the (Sinai) desert, about 450 km from Cairo. Our beds were small and on some nights, the bombs that fell on Gaza were so strong, it would throw us from our beds, even though we were across the border. I swear to you. Sometimes we saw the Israeli soldiers. We didn’t talk to them very much. There was an incident near the border where 3 of my military colleagues were killed while doing a patrol. Bullets hit their car (He showed me video on his cell phone of the bullet-ridden jeep). Nobody told their families what happened because it would make them too upset. But we think there was a clash between drug smugglers and Israeli soldiers, and the Egyptian soldiers were in the wrong place. We weren’t supposed to talk about it otherwise it could make problems with Israel.”

Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Freedom of Speech, Gaza, Hosni Mubarak, Israel, military, Mohamed Morsi, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Politics | Leave a Comment »

Hillary Clinton Meets Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi

Posted by vmsalama on July 16, 2012

Back in Egypt now and picking up where I left off in the never-ending political tornado (whether it’s  genuine or  theatre, that is the question). A rather telling (and somewhat hilarious) photo is making the rounds on Facebook and Twitter, showing Hillary Clinton in a wedding dress alongside Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, head of the Egyptian military, the couple looking smitten alongside one another as they enter a room to join several other men in uniform. In fact, both sides of the political tug-of-war in Egypt creates great uncertainty for the US as it attempts to safe keep its interests in the region while hedging its bets against the unknown. Only time will tell whether Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s newly elected president and member of the Muslim Brotherhood, will become a friend or foe. In all likelihood, so long as the United States is cutting a check for billions of dollars annually, it is hard to imagine that Egypt will see a drastic departure from the status quo. Here’s my article:

The Daily Beast
By Vivian Salama
July 15, 2012

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrapped up a two-day visit to Cairo on Sunday, the first since Egypt’s historic presidential election won by an Islamist candidate, potentially reshaping ties between these old allies against the backdrop of a rapidly changing Arab world.Clinton cautiously reaffirmed America’s commitment to Egypt’s power transfer as a recent tug of war between newly elected President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood and the country’s top generals seemed to lodge the transition in limbo. On Sunday, she urged the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to fully support a handover to civilian rule while pressing Morsi to maintain his commitment to establishing a democratic state.

“Egyptians are in the midst of complex negotiations about the transition, from the composition of your Parliament to the writing of a new constitution to the powers of the president,” Clinton said at the joint conference with Egypt’s Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr. “Only Egyptians can answer these questions, but I have come to Cairo to reaffirm the strong support of the United States for the Egyptian people and for your democratic transition.”

Morsi, who was officially named Egypt’s first post-revolution president on June 24, has pledged to empower the Egyptian people, taking on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which has served as the interim ruler since former president Hosni Mubarak’s resignation last year. Days after assuming office, he reinstated the Islamist-dominated Parliament dissolved by the high court only days before the presidential election. The court overrode the decision, but Morsi defied the order, calling on Parliament to convene, heightening tensions in a country frail from unrelenting disquiet.

A staunch ally of Mubarak’s, the United States has been impelled to evolve with the Arab world, engaging with Islamist groups it once shunned and hedging its bets with governments that bear no track record. Clinton highlighted that despite America’s support of the Mubarak regime, it was consistent in advocating human rights and calling for an end to Egypt’s oppressive emergency law. In a meeting with Morsi on Saturday, she urged the president to take minority groups into consideration amid fears that the Muslim Brotherhood and hardline Salafi Islamists would clamp down on civil rights and restrict religious freedoms in the country of 82 million people.

Prominent members of the Coptic and Evangelical churches, including billionaire Naguib Sawiris, declined an invitation to meet with Clinton, rejecting a perceived interference by the U.S. in Egypt’s internal affairs.

“Things are still very fluid,” Paul Sullivan, a North Africa expert at National Defense University, said from Cairo. The United States “needs to keep the good relations with the military. That relationship is the cement of the overall relationship with Egypt. Muslim Brotherhood relations are still putty rather than clay and potentially volatile.”Egypt is among the top five recipients of U.S. foreign assistance, receiving about $1.3 billion in military aid and $250 million in economic aid—a check America has cut annually since the signing of the Camp David accords with Israel in 1978. Clinton said the U.S. is focused on boosting trade and investment in Egypt, as well as job creation, and is prepared to commit $250 million in loan guarantees to Egypt’s small and medium-size businesses. A high-level business delegation is scheduled to visit Cairo in September to create the U.S.-Egypt Enterprise Fund, with $60 million in capital in the first year. Economic activity in Egypt has languished since antigovernment protests began in January 2011, following an exodus of investors, a drop in foreign reserves to well below half prerevolution levels, and the stunting of tourism and retail sectors. (click here to read more)

Posted in Arab, Arab League, Arab Spring, Christian, Christianity, Clinton, discrimination, Economy, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Islam, Mohamed Morsi, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Obama, Persian Gulf, Politics, Saudi Arabia, State of Emergency, United States | Leave a Comment »