Impressions from (post)-revolutionary Egypt
From 11 to
15 May we – Andreas Speck, WRI's Right to Refuse to Kill programme
worker, and Igor Seke, conscientious objector from Serbia – visited
Egypt, originally to act as facilitators and resource persons in two
workshops on conscientious objection, pacifism, and military service,
which were planned with Maikel Nabil Sanad before his arrest on 28
Andreas Speck also visited Cairo in early April 2011, during the
trial of Maikel Nabil Sanad.
In this article, we try to report on our impressions of Egypt after
7 March, a few weeks after the resignation of Egyptian dictator Hosni
Mubarak, Maikel Nabil Sanad wrote a article on his blog,
analysing in detail the role of the Egyptian military during and
after the revolution. He came to the conclusion that the people and
the military never “were one hand” - as people said so often
during the revolution.
that Maikel already wrote how on 28 January 2011, when the police
shot at the hundreds of thousands of protesters on Tahrir Square, the
military always supplied the police with ammunition when the police
ran out of it. Maikel was arrested by the military on 4 February, he
was tortured, and finally released after 27 hours.
Amnesty International too reported that during the revolution the
military arrested and tortured activists.
Maikel's position could be summed up with the title of this article -
“We got rid of the dictator, but not of the dictatorship.”
questionableness of the role of the military can also be linked to
personalities. For example, Mubarak's former Minister of Defence
Muhammad Tantawi is now the chair of „Supreme
Council of the Armed Forces“ (SCAF)
Egypt's de-facto rulers. He always opposed reforms because he feared
the government's political and economical power would erode.
It is also telling that Tantawi's nickname was “Mubarak's poodle”.
Egypt, the military is also an important player in the economy. Many
companies, especially in the water and olive oil business, the cement
and construction industry or in tourism, are owned by retired
officers. The Egyptian Army was a stable partner of the US during
Mubarak's era. US military and financial aid to the Egyptian Army is
what helped it play the central role in maintaining Mubarak in
as a guarantee that there will be no radical Islamist influence in
Egyptian politics. It's difficult to believe that all the bonds
between Mubarak and the pillars that are were holding him in power
for over 35 years are now broken.
Repression after the revolution
Nabil Sanad describes in his article that already shortly after
Mubarak's resignation it was the objective of the military to clear
Tahrir Square of protesters. First the military banned photography on
Tahrir Square on 12 February 2011, to have a free hand against people
who might document the abuses of the military. In the weeks that
followed the military and police repeatedly attacked protesters who
remained on Tahrir Square. And on 9 March, after a demonstration
against the proposals for amendments to the Egyptian constitution,
Tahrir Square was again cleared from protesters violently. More than
190 people were arrested by the military and tortured in the nearby
Egyptian museum or in military prisons. The German paper “Die Zeit”
reported that thugs brutally beat the protesters in front of the
tortured me with electric shocks on legs and breast, and addressed me
with obscene names“, reported female
activist Salma al-Husseini Guda. In the military prison they were
brought to, the female prisoners had to strip. The unmarried
women were subjected to a forced “virginity exam”,
conducted on a bed in a prison hallway, by a man. When the women
pleaded to be examined by a woman instead, they were threatened with
cattle prods, Ms. Guda said. Those who were found
not to be virgins were threatened to be charged with prostitution.
During their ordeal the victims were also filmed.
We were later told by friends of one of those arrested that her
parents tried to kill her, as her honour had been violated, although
she was examined by force.
the end of March, the interim government passed a new law that bans
any form of protest that has an impact on the smooth functioning of
the institutions or the economy. Only four hours after the law came
into force, the military made use of it and cleared the occupation of
Cairo University. Through strikes and the occupation the students
demanded to replace the old deans and lecturers, who had been put in
place by the Mubarak regime.
Rights Watch reported that General Etman, head of the Morale Affairs
Directorate of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, on 22 March
sent a letter to editors of Egyptian newspapers telling them „not
to publish any articles/news/press
releases/complaints/advertising/pictures concerning the armed forces
or the leadership of the armed forces, except after consulting the
Morale Affairs directorate and the Military Intelligence since these
are the competent parties to examine such issues to protect the
safety of the nation.“
further escalation followed on 8 April. It was the biggest
demonstration since the resignation of Mubarak, and protesters were
not only demanding that Mubarak would be put on trial, and that the
provincial governors he had put in place would be replaced, but many
protesters were also denouncing human rights violations by the SCAF
and were demanding the resignation of Tantawi and creation of a
civilian transition government.
same night, the military again stormed Tahrir Square. At least two
people were shot dead, and many more injured.
The following day, the highly symbolical Tahrir Square was again
occupied, but protesters were evicted again on 12 April. And again it
was thugs supporting the military and handing over people to the
In the hours that followed, people were often arrested randomly in
the streets around Tahrir Square.
Egyptian people demonstrated non-violently to overthrow Mubarak, and
maintained the spirit of non-violent revolution even when the
security forces were opening live fire against them, causing more
than 800 deaths in only a few weeks. Although there is numerous
evidence that the Army was acting against the protesters during the
the SCAF and a large part of the mainstream media in Egypt try to
maintain the myth that they are the only guarantee for a democratic
transition of the country. However, it is obvious that the SCAF is
ruling the country the same way Mubarak did, and it is using the most
brutal forms of repression against it's opponents.
The case Maikel Nabil Sanad
sentencing of Maikel Nabil is a clear message of the military that
any civilian who criticises the military will be arrested“,
said Adel Ramadan, lawyer of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal
Rights, who was part of Nabil's team of lawyers.
was arrested by military police in his flat on 28 March, and
initially a detention order was given for 15 days, while he was put
on trial. The author of this article went to Cairo on 2 April as an
observer on behalf of War Resisters' International, but not only he,
also Maikel's friends and supporters were not allowed to observe the
trial at the military court in Nasr City in Cairo. Even though the
trial lasted almost two weeks – normally trials at military courts
last only five minutes – it can still not be considered a fair
the trial was conducted mostly without any public present. Secondly,
Maikel and his defence team did not have sufficient time to prepare
an effective defence. And thirdly as a civilian Maikel should not
have been tried in a military court.
scandalous were the circumstances of the sentencing. His family and
lawyers were told on 10 April that sentencing would be on 12 April.
After they had left the court room, Maikel was then – in absence of
his family and lawyers – sentenced to three years' imprisonment.
Only through the phone call of another person, who visited his
brother in prison, did Maikel's family learn of the sentence.
even then the lies continued. On the next day, they were told that
Maikel had been brought to Tora prison. A soldier guarding Maikel
allowed Maikel to secretly use his mobile phone to inform his brother
and to tell him that he was imprisoned in El-Marg prison.
a message he was able to smuggle out of prison he told his friends
that he had been arrested in order to silence him. And in an article
smuggled out he wrote: „I can feel the
intention of harming me after the court ruling. Don’t believe the
army’s worthless claims about suicide attempts. Hence, the Military
Council is responsible for my safety and well-being until the time of
high representatives of the European Union and EU countries expressed
their concerns about Maikel Nabil Sanad's imprisonment, there has so
far not been a solution. German Federal Foreign Minister Guido
Westerwelle, at the meeting with his Egyptian counterpart Nabil
El-Araby, said that the sentence imposed on Maikel is a step back in
the democratisation of Egypt, and that Germany wants “encourage
those people who are bringing the democratic process forward.”
During his visit to Egypt on 2 and 3 May, Štefan Füle, EU
Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy,
raised his concerns about a number of reported human rights
violations in Egypt, and specifically mentioned Maikel's case as one
of the most obvious cases.
Military service and the right to conscientious objection
is a cornerstone of male socialisation in Egypt, guaranteeing the
military indoctrination of a large part of Egyptian society. Military
service is obligatory for all men aged between 18 and 30 and it lasts
for 3 years. There is no legal right to conscientious objection.
one of our workshops we had a long and open discussion with mostly
young men on compulsory military service and conscientious objection.
Some of the participants considered the army the most corrupted
institution of the state. But the real problem is not just
corruption, it is militarism in itself. There are different
strategies and actions young men take in order to avoid military
service by being declared “not fit” for it. However, most of them
believe that peace cannot be achieved until Israel is demilitarised,
and if Israel keeps nuclear weapons and continues to buy arms as it
is doing now, Arab countries will never accept any kind of
demilitarisation or reduction of their armed forces – so the
Rise of religious tensions
before we arrived in Egypt, a Coptic church was burned and 11 people
were killed in clashes that followed, while more than 200 were
injured (65 had bullet wounds) on 7 May 2011. While some accuse the
"Salafists", radical Muslims, to be behind the attacks,
others accuse members of Mubarak's old National Security who want to
seed chaos in the country. Although most of the people we spoke to
believe that Mubarak's old State Security is behind the attack on
Christians, a fact is that even before the revolution, while Mubarak
was still in power, 23 Copts were killed in a bomb attack at the
Coptic Church in Alexandria on the 13 January 2011.
13 May we witnessed a massive but peaceful Coptic protest in Cairo,
in front of the national TV station. The main chant of the
demonstrations was "They are taking our rights away! What do
we do? What do we do?" The following day, 14 May, there was
an attack against the Coptic protesters with Molotov cocktails on
this same spot.
media, especially television as the most powerful one, is trying to
convince the people that the revolution was successful and that now,
when the freedom has been gained, the job is done and the revolution
is over. Around Tahrir Square a variety of post-revolutionary
merchandise of any kind is for sale, but none of it is about keeping
the flame of the revolution alive, it is only about the memory of the
revolution, especially the 25 January, when the biggest demonstration
in spite of these attempts by the media and by the old elites, people
are still wary, and from time to time rise up again. Strikes are
still widespread, even though they have been effectively outlawed.
In a Facebook page entitled "The 2nd revolution of anger",
activists say the fundamental demands of the uprising – to protect
rights and freedoms – have not been met.
At present, the timetable and plans for the transitions get more
attention, and many secular opposition groups are demanding to
postpone the elections, and are calling for a large demonstration on
– the revolution is not over. The coming months and even years will
still be turbulent and interesting times in Egypt, and the outcome is
still very much open.
Andreas Speck and Igor Seke