International Day of Girl Child: Egypt’s girls deserve better

Women around the world face gender discrimination. This discrimination is encountered since childhood when growing up in patriarchal societies. 1.1 billion girls suffer more inequality in the world than boys. In Egypt, girls naturally encounter more gender discrimination. As a video I recently saw puts it, girls endure that even before birth.

So in the event of International Girl Day, here is the situation of Egyptian girls.

Here are the facts (statistics to be more precise):

  • Female genital mutilation (FGM) is prevalent among girls.
    The FGM rate in 2014 in the reproductive age from 15 to 49 years reached 92%, while it is less in the young girls in the age group from 15 to 17 years, up to 61%, according to the most recent statistics of the Demographic and Health Survey in 2014 released in May 2015 as cited by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights (ECWR)’s Women Status Report 2015. The survey also showed that more than 75% of cases are for girls at the age of 9 to 12 years and 14% for girls 7 years younger, asserting that the majority of Egyptian families circumcise their daughters.
  • 21% of forced child labour is among girls, according to CAPMAS and Ministry of Social Solidarity as reported by Aswat Masriya website.
  • More than quarter of Egyptian girls are forced intro marriage before turning 18 years old.
  • Female literacy rate amounts to 65%, female enrollment in primary education is 96%, female enrollment in secondary education is 85%, and female enrollment in higher education is 31% according to the Gender Global Gap report in 2015 as cited by the ECWR’s Women Status Report 2015.
  • Let alone the harassment, girls encounter in the streets. There is no accurate statistics on sexual harassment only for girls, but, for women and girls, according to UN studies, almost one women or girl out of 10 gets harassed on daily basis.
  • Last but not least, girls suffer from the ultimate taboo of domestic violence. There is no accurate statistics available on girls and lack of focus on it. Abuse can be typically percieved by the society as disciplinary action not as domestic abuse. Domestic violence encompasses physical, emotional and psychological abuse.

Here is the reality:

  • It is likely that the parents would prefer a boy than a girl to “carry the name of the family” as more common among conservative Egyptians.
  • It is also likely by 75% for girls aged 9 – 12 to suffer FGM due to the widespread belief that, without it, women who do not undergo FGM are unable to control their sexual urges and thus would be involved in relationships outside wedlock, which carries a social stigma.
  • Growing up, girls would realize their bodies are not theirs; their bodies would be the property of their family, transferred to her husband later on. They are taught they represent the family’s honour. They are merely reproductive object, not more than that.
  • It is likely that girls from less privileged socio-economic status to be forced to marry elder men for money.
  • Sex trafficking is even a great challenge, even though it is criminalized. Egyptian children, including those among the estimated 200,000 to one million street children, are vulnerable to sex trafficking and forced labor in domestic service, begging, and agricultural work. Individuals from the Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait, purchase Egyptian girls for “temporary” or “summer” marriages for the purpose of prostitution or forced labor; these arrangements are often facilitated by the victims’ parents and marriage brokers, who profit from the transaction, as showed by the 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report, published by the US Department of State.

 

The greatest obstacle we face is the culture, if we teach our girls they can do anything, they are not solely sexual objects. Girls should be empowered with education to make their own choices. To decide on what kind of life they want to lead.

Girls should know these facts:

  • They can grow up to be anything they aim for; your gender is neither a advantage or a disadvantage
  • They are equal citizens and human beings
  • Their bodies are theirs and only theirs. They are not less women for being fat or dark skinned or too pale, they are never too much of something.
  • They are not bossy if they are hard workers.
  • Not less than 20% of Egyptian households are led by women according to CAPMAS report in 2014
  • There are currently 18 female world leaders, including 12 female heads of government and 11 elected female heads of state, according to United Nations data.

I don’t believe in the effectiveness of International days of something but we might as well use the opportunity, so I tried through this quickly drafted list to shed the light on the plight and raise awareness of gender equality for girls in Egypt.

Starting from the bottom up is a great tool to empower, to make a difference, even a slight one. Girls around the world do deserve better than that.

(Photo Courtesy of UNFPA)

The Veil Paradox: Scattered thoughts of an Egyptian feminist

I recall when I was kid that I perceived the headscarf as an eccentric phenomenon. I saw a lot of women wearing it, heard a lot of people advocating it or else you are doomed yet some completely rejecting it. I noticed its existence all around me in the streets, yet noticed its absence from the media. There was always this image of privileged, or elitist women all in the media even with female officials in senior positions. This disparity struck me.
Growing up, I started to observe what I start to be aware of as a social phenomenon. I dealt with both camps, if I may use the term camps, the pro-veil camp mostly judge you and your religiosity based on it. If you take it off, you are doomed, religiously, morally, and even socially. The not favouring veil camp often regard it as a sign of backwardness, or inferiority. I’m simplifying both views, they are a lot more complex but I’m trying to be short while tackling the main views. Both were or are not really accepting of me whether veiled or not veiled but let’s face it they were not accepting anyone but who is similar to them. The media was not often inclusive of the veil for political causes no need to tackle now but in short it reinforced judgments in a classist impoverished society.
It remains rather interesting to me is how both camps glorify their struggle claiming the other’s inferiority. Each camp view their struggle as the ultimate one while denounce the other’s. The irony is I believe they have a lot more in common than they think. Both act as if they are morally higher or more enlightened. The most striking similarity is that both camps in fact objectify women and deprive them from sovereignty over their bodies. This is quite ironic since the origin of both stances, aside from religious ones, is supposedly defying objectification by as not submit to society’s beauty standards or not to submit to covering themselves cause of others. It is funny how the a considerable segment of the society misses the point of the real reasons of doing stuff and end up just focusing on the social image, and definitely judging people accordingly.
I’m in no way generalising, this definitely does not represent everyone, but these are samples of mentalities I have encountered.
The thing we miss is that one can have a personal opinion and act upon, you most certainly have the right you but in no way it gives you the right to judge anyone else’s decision.

Interplay between politicized mass media and women’s bodies

While mainstream media outlets have been condemning sexual harassment in the past period, they did not acknowledge how much the media shapes public culture and perception, how much the media actually contributes to this phenomenon.

Sexual harassment has been one of the most pervasive forms of violence against women in Egypt, it is no news. In fact in the past period this phenomenon has been under the spotlight. Well, that urges us to look at an underrated factor in this phenomenon. What about mass media?

A wife’s duty is to clean up after her husband, exclaiming why else a man would get married, says a popular TV host on his talk show!

During his popular talk show “Al Qahera Al Youm” translated as “Cairo Today”, Amr Adeeb, an Egyptian prominent television host, equates women with maids or nannies insisting that wives’ duty is to obviously serve their husbands, pick up his dirty dishes and do his laundry, as it’s neither his nor any man’s duty to clean up after themselves.

Adeeb doesn’t stop there. He adds that this is a coup; calling on men to not allow their wives to ask them to clean up after themselves, otherwise woman would follow this “dangerous” path, demand their so called equality and the whole “global system” falls! Amr Adeeb has one of the highest viewership rates in the Middle East, as reported by the news website Egyptian Streets. [i]

Adeeb’s comments are audacious, reductionist and outrageous, yet, it speaks of how women are often perceived as inferior in the private sphere.

The implied controversial notion he evokes is that such attitude reflects manhood and masculinity; if a man accepts to clean up after himself, his manhood should be questioned. This suggests that masculinity is linked to subordination of women. Such narrative bolsters misogynistic ideas.  In a polarized society where mass media is far reaching in its influence for different sectors of society, evening talk shows are regarded as a vital source of information by the average Egyptians. [ii]

When the infamous case of mob-sexual assault of a female student took place in the Faculty of Law, Cairo University in March 2014, the reaction of Tamer Ameen, another anchor-man, was appalling. He blamed the victim, slut shaming her; describing her outfit looks as that of a dancer’s:  it’s provoking, sexy, and revealing. He tackled the incident as a shameful act, yet, because of her outfit, no wonder sexually suppressed students harassed her. He explicitly denied the victim’s personal freedom, rejecting the University’s statement of that the girl’s dress code is personal freedom, slamming it as inappropriate, and indecent. Even though Ameen admitted that the harassers hold responsibility, they were still excused.  Further, in his commentary on the sexual assault victim, Ameen made a rather interesting note. He linked the way the students stalked her to the bathroom where she locked herself up and gathered there to a scene in the Egyptian movie El Tagroba El Denarmkeya “The Danish Experience”, where a blond Danish student visiting Egypt for the first time was stalked by Egyptian men and followed by their gazes.  Such attitude was regarded by the movie as normal, flattery, and funny; it reflected how good looking the woman was.  It was referred to by the media as “cultural difference in a comedic fashion”. The movie portrayed that the harassment of a foreign beautiful woman is a standard outcome of the culture.

Ameen is no exception.

Most broadcast media outlets would tackle cases of sexual harassment, yet they would more often slut shame and blame the victim. “Blame the victim mentality” is one of the foremost causes of the wide spread of sexual violence. It is always suspected that the woman has aroused or irritated the offender through her dress code or behaviour. This “culture of taboo” and shame prevails in the Egyptian society,  persuading women to view themselves as sex objects, consequently discouraging them to report the crime or bring the perpetrator to justice. This leads the perpetrator to receive impunity without deliberation.

In a television commercial promoting a summer resort released in July 2014, a father and his two sons  are gazing and watching a pretty woman singing in the bathroom, and when she closes the window, one of the sons says “Don’t worry her next shower is at 6”. Supposedly such flagrant harassment would encourage the disgruntled women to purchase at the resort as it would offer more “privacy”. The commercial suggests that harassment is a normal consequence of being in a crowded place. Thus, to avoid harassment, one should move away from crowded places. Such a behavior is not condemned by the commercial, it is normalized.

The patriarchal culture shapes the behaviour and attitudes towards women.  Mass media is a paradoxical element in this context; it reflects the patriarchal culture, consolidating it. Thus, it plays a powerful role in the epidemic of sexual violence. While it can counter the epidemic, it endorses its culture, normalizing it. This is noted in the manner the media addresses sexual violence. For instance, Egyptian television approaches sexual harassment as sign of admiration. If a female character is harassed, this is an indication that she is beautiful or sexy. Sexual harassment is commonly perceived as a manifestation of pleasure by men and flattering by women. Ironically, this perception is rarely criticised and commonly adopted in the media.  Ultimately, it advocates the delusional idea that men have the right to approach the woman they desire; as superiors, as a display of power and at the end of the day the woman should be flattered.

It is no secret that the Egyptian culture is predominantly male dominated where the marginalization of women is the dominant social feature, leading to certain social constructions of women’s bodies. Yet, these constructions of female sexuality do not only reflect social and cultural identities but power struggles as well.

With the politicization of human life in Egypt, sexual harassment has been employed by the mainstream mass media to serve a political agenda, acting as mouthpieces for the government. Since the 25th of January, State media has significantly lost momentum for its government propaganda. The dominant privately owned outlets are owned by businessmen, supporting or aligned with the government.  In her account on the challenges “Third World” women face to defy media structures, Naomi Sakr noted “When the mainstream media are aligned with the State, the experience of women vis-à-vis the media is different too.”[iii] The media then become a tool by the State to assert control, thus making it inherently difficult to provide discursive space for a contentious topic, unless it serves political interests.

The Egyptian media spotlight on sexual assault in the past months was rather positive. Last June, for the first time, Egypt has ratified a law criminalizing sexual harassment as an amendment to the Egyptian legal code.[iv]After the sexual assault video on the president’s inauguration day, the new Egyptian president Abdel Fatah Al Sisi vowed a sterner line against sexual assault; ordering the policemen to adopt a zero tolerance approach to sexual crimes. Since then, there has been a significant increase in reporting sexual harassment. Nonetheless, many cases of sexual abuse of female detainees and protestors were not investigated by the authorities, or addressed by mainstream mass media.  The rhetoric of “these women should not be assaulted” is not extended to the female detainees, the female protesters who were subjected to virginity tests and the girl with the blue bra. In fact, many anchors argue that they caused it to themselves.  Women who break social norms are considered of inappropriate social conduct, and thus they shall not receive protection, or to be more precise shall not be dignified.

A pseudo political will not combat sexual violence. The epidemic will remain rampant as long as the media rhetoric remains the same. Mass media has the capacity to break taboos and trigger national debate. In fact, it is a potentially instrumental tool to make sexual violence of common concern by raising awareness of society’s role and urging the government to act positively. Social media provides an outstanding forum for expression, yet it is not as effective as mass media in reach out campaigns.

In the 2000s, the Egyptian government showcased televised literacy campaigns. It urged illiterate people, especially women, to pursue education, showing how much it affects their lives.  A study titled “Egyptian Rural Women’s Readings of these Televised Literacy Campaigns” reveals that modern mass media, television in particular, are entrenched in shaping women’s traditional oral culture, as all of her respondents have reported watching television with their families and discussing its programmes and ideas. She highlights that this collective pattern of television viewing offers an exceptional medium in shaping women’s views and ideas. Although her study explores the variations of rural women’s reception of the televised literacy campaign according to their social context, it affirmed the role of the television as a crucial forum for outreach.[v]

A similar campaign is central to raising awareness about sexual harassment and its impact on women and society as a whole. The rhetoric of men’s duty to protect women’s honor could be vastly effective in the present, yet it is problematic and short sighted. It implies and enforces the perception that women’s bodies are commodities controlled by men, and should be protected by them. Women should not be portrayed as passive subjects, inferior beings or sex objects but rather as active participants. This context would definitely be helpful to combat sexual violence, if men come to view women as active participant in the public and private spheres, rather than sexual or reproductive objects in the private sphere, or even better for women not to perceive themselves as submissive. But first the realm of sexual violence epidemic should be further highlighted; resisting stereotypes of blaming the victim or excusing the perpetrator, and ultimately reshaping public perception towards violence against women. Only then, we would be on the right track to combat sexual violence.

Nevertheless, the most critical question would remain: will the State be willing to alter this popular culture?

[i] “Popular Egyptian television host says wives are servants for husbands,” Egyptian Streets, October 2, 2014. http://egyptianstreets.com/2014/10/02/popular-egyptian-television-host-says-wives-are-servants-for-husbands/

[ii]Rasha Abdulla, “Egypt’s Media in the Midst of Revolution,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, July, 16, 2014, http://carnegieendowment.org/2014/07/16/egypt-s-media-in-midst-of-revolution/hg1v

[iii] Naomi Sakr, “Women – Media Interaction in the Middle East: An Introductory Overview,” Women and Media in the Middle East, 2nd Ed. (I.B.Tauris& Co Ltd; 2007), pp. 1- 16.

[iv] “Egypt’s Mansour issues law for tougher sexual harassment penalties,” Ahram Online, June 5, 2014, http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/103010.aspx

[v]SaharKhamis, “Chapter 6: Multiple Literacies, Multiples identities: Egyptian Rural Women’s Readings of Televised Literacy Campaigns,” Women and Media in the Middle East, 2nd Ed. (I.B.Tauris& Co Ltd; 2007), pp. 89 – 108.

Egypt’s gang rape: Never accept the normalization of Sexual Harassment

On 8th of June, during the celebrations of Field Marshall Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s inauguration as president, a group of men has sexually assaulted a young woman in Tahrir Sqaure. A video on YouTube, documenting the assault, have went viral. The video shows a young woman sexually assaulted, beaten and stripped. The video is appalling. Well, correction, the incident is beyond appalling.

However, in a one of a kind quick response, the Ministry of Interior has announced that seven have been arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting up to four women during celebrations for the inauguration of Egypt’s new President, according to the news site, Egyptian Streets.

The irony is, when an appalling incident takes place, Egyptians express their rage over social media for some time then another issue comes up and attention is diverted. It is no secret that over 90% of Egyptian women were subjected to sexual harassment. According to a report conducted by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, 99.3% of Egyptian women have experienced at least on form of sexual harassment. The report asserted that verbal sexual harassment had the second-highest rate experienced by women with 95.5% of women reporting cases. Moreover, 96.5% of surveyed women said that sexual harassment came in the form of touching, which was the most common manifestation of sexual harassment. Egyptians live in constant violation of their bodies. Why public opinion is shocked at each incident? Does anyone remember the girl with the blue bra, or the virginity tests conducted by the military to female protesters?

Finally, a new law criminalizing sexual harassment was adopted on 5th of June, 2014. However, as Harassmap, a volunteer-based initiative, asserted in the article “The Proposed Sexual Harassment Draft Law: Countering sexual harassment?” that “advocacy for a new law on sexual harassment cannot stand alone in a context in which existing laws are not enforced because sexual harassment/assault is not seen as a crime by the society, or even as something wrong”. In other words, due to the social acceptability of the crime, the law will hardly be effective. On real grounds, outside social media there is not any actual societal awareness about the crime. There has been some improvement, for instance last month, a man was sentenced to one year in prison and fined 10,000 LE after he was found guilty of sexually harassing a woman at the Dokki Metro station, as Egyptian Streets reported.

Yet, this is one of the few cases reported. Harassment is usually considered the victim’s fault. This is why many assaulted victims are often embarrassed or discouraged to bring the harasser to justice. “Blame the victim” is embodied in the culture. Mass media endorses this culture.

When you watch a video of Tahrir TV Channel Correspondent reporting that there are cases of sexual harassment but she stressed that they are individual cases (as if that is acceptable), the female anchor Maha Bahnassy responds exclaiming  “they’re just so happy”. The commentator is basically implying that harassment is some sort a way of expressing happiness, and that justifies it.

I can’t help being disgusted by this kind of rhetoric, by that kind of apathy? Or let me rephrase, by the amount of passiveness.

However, I still can’t help but to try to make a difference. Yes, the situation of women in Egypt is still horrific; but since we are living in Egypt, we might as well try to make it a rather habitable place for all of us.

Does expressing outrage on social media through a rather strong rhetoric help any cause? Yes, social media has proved to be very effective in mobilization, but here is a secret; it doesn’t really make a difference, unless you act upon it.

Act on the real ground, try to combat this crime in any way; spread awareness; volunteer; or even apply your preaches on yourself. Never accept harassment, never blame a victim. Never accept the normalization of sexual assault.

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Power of Representation: Prospects of a female presidential candidate in Egypt

In the past month, former Egyptian State TV news anchor Bothaina Kamel announced her intention to enter the Egyptian presidential race. Samira Ibrahim, the spokesperson for Kamel’s campaign, told the online newspaper Mada Masr that Kamel decided to run to pursue the issue of women rights; as she believed the two main potential candidates were not giving the matter enough attention. Kamel stated that she was pressured by women rights organizations to run for presidency.

The campaign spokesperson further asserted that the goal of Kamel’s candidacy is to have a woman in the race, even if her chances of winning are slim. However, the official registration for the presidential race has closed, and Kamel was not able to register. Kamel announced her bid for presidency in the past elections in 2012. Yet, her attempt was similarly not successful, as she did not receive enough signatures.

Such announcement raises speculations about the possibility of a female candidate running in the Egyptian presidential elections and the implications of such a matter. What if a woman actually runs for president in an Egyptian presidential election? Would this sort of representation advance the status of Egyptian women?

It is highly unlikely that a woman presidential bid would be successful as the Egyptian political sphere is fundamentally male dominated. Yet, it still might have fruitful implications for women in Egypt and the Middle East. It would shed light on the role women can play in Egyptian politics. A female candidate defies dichotomous social norms and expectations, so she could set an empowering example. It even could reflect a milestone in the country’s transition towards democracy.

But can this representation alone advance women’s status?

It is rather a reductionist outlook to assume that a female candidate in a patriarchal configuration can pursue women’s rights.  The dilemma is entrenched in several aspects of the society, and cannot simply be elucidated through a female candidate. Practically, gender subordination is internalized in the Egyptian culture and shapes our behavior towards women.  It requires more in depth solution on the micro and macro levels change process actions.

If the purpose of a female candidate or president is to redirect state’s focus on women, it has previous precedents in Egypt. Former regimes have adopted some policies to address women’s marginalization and “modernize” society. Nevertheless, these attempts were rather ineffective. The problem with most of these policies is that they do not bear the challenges the third world countries face or their norms, beliefs and culture.  Most of the women empowerment programs in Egypt are Euro-centric and do not tackle gender development or advancement through the cultural or social context.  Furthermore, these attempts did not trickle down on the population. Instead, they further created a gap between women of different classes.

The culture of a female leader is somehow foreign to the majority of ordinary Egyptian women. A westernized-like middle or upper class woman running for president reflects an alienated image to ordinary Egyptian women. The majority of women would not relate to her. It is highly inaccurate to believe that Egyptian women are a homogenous group, particularly with the widening socio-economic gap. Female figure in high positions only represent certain segments, primarily privileged high or upper-middle class women.

Although a female candidate might seem as a breakdown in the tents of patriarchy, it would not empower all Egyptian women.  It is critical to empower women in the public and private sphere. State-endorsed feminism should be aiming to empower rural and urban women, middle class and working class, in all sectors of the society. However, women should be represented first on micro and macro levels, and in legislation, to challenge the intellectual infrastructure of the patriarchal society.

Currently, in Latin America, there are four female head of states; Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Costa Rica. In fact, it sets a record of women presidents.  However, the rise of female leaders in Latin America is no surprise; as roughly 1 in 4 legislators is a woman, according to the statistics of Gender Equality Observatory for Latin America and the Caribbean in 2012. Quotas in 16 Latin American states have helped achieving record numbers of female lawmakers in the region. Regardless, Latin American women still face various challenges; as 47 percent have been victims of sexual violence at least once. Nevertheless, around 70 million women joined the Latin American workforce in the last 20 years, leading to the reduction of regional poverty by 30 percent.

Latin America sets an exceptional example that representation is a cornerstone for women empowerment.  If Egyptian women suffer from lack of representation in decision-making bodies, then women’s issues would not be properly addressed. Yet, to believe that a female candidate is the ultimate solution is a fallacy.

A female candidate would reflect an image of Arab Muslim female leadership. However, this image would hardly be empowering if women in the society remain marginalized. If the culture of objectifying women persists, if society is still unaware of the importance of women empowerment, if equal opportunities for both sexes are not attained, then female presidential candidates will hardly make a difference.

This Op-ed was originally published in the Middle East Media Center for Studies website http://www.memcs.com by myself. 

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IEDs and the Doomed Strategy of Egyptian Militants

The ouster of Islamist President Muhammad Morsi saw a sharp increase in the number of militant attacks, particularly bombings, in Egypt. The favourite weapon appears to be the Improvised Explosive Device, and Islamist militant groups are making constant use of this easy-to-manufacture weapon.

The Improvised Explosive Device (IED), or “homemade bomb”, has been a favourite of militant groups for years. Cheap, hard to detect, and requiring very little sophistication to assemble, it provides militant and other groups with the means to strike at conventional military forces when unable to field any of their own. Since the ouster of Islamist President Muhammad Morsi last year, bomb attacks, among others, have been on the rise in Egypt – both in the troublesome region of North Sinai, as well as populated areas in and around the capital.

IED usage goes back as far as World War II, when resistance groups would employ them against German forces. They were also used by the Provisional IRA (Irish Republican Army) against the British in Northern Ireland in the latter half of the 20th century. Most recently, they have been used to devastating effect in Iraq and Afghanistan against American and NATO troops.

In the period following 2001, IEDs have accounted for up to 60% of fatalities suffered by the US army in its deployments, and is a favourite for Iraqi and Afghan militants. It is often hidden somewhere discreet, such as an animal corpse, placed within a strategically parked car, or by the roadside at a time when the militants know a convoy will pass.

The biggest danger with IEDs is the difficulty detecting them. Unless security personnel know where and when to look, chances are that it will go undetected until it is too late. Worse still, in some parts of the world, IEDs are being manufactured entirely of plastic to make them impossible to locate with metal detectors. Such devices use graphite for the electric circuits, and forego metal shrapnel in favour of stealth. While such devices require a certain degree of sophistication to assemble, the more common IEDs require very little knowledge of explosives and can easily be manufactured at home.

An IED has three essential components: the explosive charge, an initiation mechanism, and a casing. The explosive is usually made of agricultural fertiliser, a readily available substance, or can occasionally be made of explosive matter taken from the military. The initiation mechanism provides the electric charge that detonates the device, and includes a switch and power source. The case can be anything from an animal carcass to a soft-drinks can; the more inconspicuous, the better.

Since August of last year, Egypt has witnessed no fewer than 26 such bombings, in addition to numerous other attacks by militants on security checkpoints and the like. The result has been the death of at least 150 police, 74 soldiers, and 57 civilians.

The IED is not designed for use against a specific target, and is equally deadly against military personnel, civilians, vehicles, and buildings. In Afghanistan, 66% of IED casualties have been civilians, while in Egypt so far it has been 20%. Among other things it is a psychological weapon, as the difficulty in anticipating it can create a pervading atmosphere of fear in an area. Terrorist groups in Egypt such as Ansar Bayt Al Maqdis and Ajnad Misr have been targeting security personnel in particular as part of a campaign against what they perceive to be a military regime.

The conflict in Egypt could be showcased as a display of Fourth-generation warfare. The term “Fourth-generation warfare” is often used to refer to a conflict involving a violent non-state actor attacking state security. The unique characteristic of this conflict is that it is not a traditional military confrontation – it is more complex and multidimensional; as it has strategic, political, social, economic, and even psychological aspects. This conflict is often long term, blurry, and decentralised. Generally speaking, the main objectives of the violent non-state actor are to destabilise the state and paralyse state institutions. The use of IEDs facilitates the pursuit of such goals.

In Egypt’s case in particular, the terrorist groups’ objectives lie under the same umbrella. However, when considering the political objectives of these attacks in the Egyptian context, it is imperative to examine the targets.

With regard to the targets, there isn’t any specific pattern in terms of location. The only thing they all have in common is the deliberate targeting of Egyptian security personnel, whether police or army. The diversity of locations makes it rather difficult for security bodies, as well as citizens, to anticipate them.

The most palpable objective of the attacks is to spread an atmosphere of fear and terror.  It could also be perceived as an attempt to challenge the supremacy of the state. This sort of atmosphere leads people to gradually lose trust in the security institutions, regardless of the diversity of the targets.

The Ministry of Interior has given assurances in many statements that it is exerting its utmost efforts to combat these terrorist attacks, especially after their rapid increase after the removal of Morsi. A source from the Civil Security Department told MEMCS that the Interior Ministry is adopting a new strategy to counter these attacks. He further highlighted that the strategy involves many actors, not only the Interior Minister.

The first step in this strategy is spreading awareness among civilians on how to avoid and react in case one of these attacks takes place, and how to quickly report bombs or any strange objects found. The second step is to secure indoor places frequented by large numbers of people. They also plan to increase the number of teams specialised in dealing with bombs (called bomb disposal squads). This will be done in cooperation with the military, and they are providing the teams with training sessions.

Regarding how to anticipate these attacks, he responded that this is the responsibility of data collection agencies such as the National Security Council, as they are responsible for gathering information about these cells and how to foresee their attacks.

Ansar Bayt Al Maqdis and Ajnad Misr both seem to lack a clear long-term objective. Perhaps, like Al Qaeda, they wish to see the creation of an Islamic state modelled after the old Caliphate. In any case, their short-term objective seems clear: the destabilising of the Egyptian state, particularly the security apparatus. These groups cannot hope to take on the Ministry of Interior, let alone the Egyptian Army. Rather, they wish to make these institutions appear powerless to stop them. If this proves successful, they could bring about the disillusionment of the population, who would at that point become frustrated with a state unable to even protect itself, let alone its citizens.

This probably accounts for the high proportion of security personnel killed by these attacks, with comparatively few civilians. Ajnad Masr announced that they wished to not harm any civilians, and Al Qaeda leader Ayman Al Zawahiri instructed as much when he sanctioned attacks on the “American-backed Egyptian military”. It would appear that these attacks aim to simultaneously diminish the authority of the state while not appearing an enemy to the population.

While on the surface it appears that such a strategy makes sense, in reality it stands a good chance of backfiring. While these bombings supposedly do not target civilians, civilians have died nonetheless. An ordinary citizen who sees a bomb go off in their street won’t be feeling lucky that they weren’t targeted because of their civilian status. At the end of the day, no one wants bombs going off anywhere. Furthermore, if one takes into account that almost every family in Egypt has at least one member who is either in the police or the army, even the exclusive targeting of security forces will become a personal matter for ordinary Egyptians.

As a result of this, the outcome may be very different to that envisaged by the militants. Rather than turn on the state, civilians may become more supportive of a state they see as under attack by terrorists. Citizens could become more willing to accept the state giving itself more power to deal with such threats, and less sympathetic of any detained Islamists, whether militant or otherwise.

Instead of creating a disillusionment of the state and its security institutions, militant groups risk demonising themselves and thus uniting the country with the state against what is perceived to be a common enemy.

This feature was originally published in the Middle East Media Center for Studies website http://www.memcs.com on April 30th, 2014. It is written by Adam Woodard, Mariam Mecky, and Nada Salah. 

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Egypt’s 2014 Presidential Elections: Why are there only two candidates?

On 20th April, the High Presidential Election Commission closed registration for the upcoming presidential elections, limiting the presidential candidates to Abdul Fattah Al Sisi, who recently resigned from his posts as head of the military and minister of defense, and former Parliament member and politician Hamdeen Sabahi. The polls are scheduled to take place on 26-27 May.

On 3rd July 2013 the Egyptian military responded to the demands of millions of Egyptians calling for the removal of President Muhammad Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and the first elected president of Egypt after Mubarak.

Post-Morsi, Egypt has had a chaotic political scene that is divided into two main camps. The first is the pro June 30th camp, which is composed of many segments: proponents of stability, remnants of the Mubarak regime, along with the security institutions which have been highly criticised since the 25th January, yet seek reconciliation with the masses.

According to the Egyptian Centre for Public Opinion Research (Baseera), 67% are “content” with the police and army dispersal of the pro-Morsi sit-ins on the 14th August. This indicates how this camp perceives Al-Sisi and the military as their saviours; having rescued them from the Muslim Brotherhood. This camp prioritises domestic stability.

On the other side, the rival camp consists of Islamists opposed to the ouster of Morsi, which they call a coup. It consists of pro-Morsi activists, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other Islamists opposed to his ouster.

It is noteworthy that the 2012 presidential race, which was the first post-revolution election in Egypt’s history, involved 23 presidential hopefuls. All of these candidates successfully submitted their papers. In the first round, there were 6 top candidates, leading to a runoff between the top two, Muhammad Morsi and Ahmed Shafiq. This election highlighted the political system in Egypt as a multi-party system.

Today, a year after this mixed scene, the upcoming presidential election is limited to only two candidates from the first round. So what happened from 2012 to 2014? Why are we not seeing the same large array of candidates? What are the factors that led to this political standoff?

Observing the chain of events in the post-Morsi era, it can be deduced that there are complex factors leading to this situation:

– Firstly, the increase of violence. For instance, there is the chaos in Sinai, regular protests at universities by Muslim Brotherhood and other students, an increase in terrorist attacks, and there is even the emergence of new terrorist organisations claiming responsibility for the attacks seen recently, namely Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis and Ajnad Misr.

– Secondly, Egypt has not had a solid organised political opposition since June 30th; the clampdown on the Muslim Brotherhood resulted in rifts in the opposition. Political parties do not have any concrete presence on the political scene. In fact, the security measures and legal reforms taken by the state affected political participation and activism; such as the protest law. This law resulted in the sentence of the co-founders of 6th April movement Ahmed Maher and Mohamed Adel, to three years in jail and a fine of 50,000 EGP for protesting without the approval of the Interior Ministry.

Ayman Nour, politician, founder and chairman of the El Ghad party, is in exile in Lebanon. Mohamed El Baradei, the acting Vice President of Egypt from 14th July to 14th August 2013, and one of the more prominent opposition figures since January 2011, has left Egypt after his resignation, and is accused of a “betrayal of trust”. Moreover, a Cairo court has ruled to ban the 6th April movement on 28th April 2014 over espionage claims. This chain of events has caused rifts in the opposition, and hindered their ability to participate in Egyptian political life.

   – Thirdly, there is a noticeable lack of organization and coordination between the so called revolutionary forces, this factor plays a big role in responding to why Egypt lacks more than one viable alternative in these elections.

In an interview, Dr. Ahmed Abd Rabou,  Assistant Professor of Political Science at Cairo University and the American University in Cairo, asserted that “The multi-party political operation in 2014 declined compared to 2012. In 2012 there was a multiparty system; each current or party proposed its candidate. However, this time there is real frustration. The state’s repressive measures since the ouster of Morsi on his supporters are another important factor, as it led them to boycott the constitutional referendum.”

Egypt is witnessing a complex period in its history and political scene. Every day, new circumstances redirect and reshape the country’s future. Egypt’s next president, whoever he may be, has a large array of challenges to meet.

This article was originally published in the Middle East Media Center for Studies website http://www.memcs.com on May 4th, 2013. It is written by Nada Salah. 

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Hamdeen Sabbahi’s strategy and prospects

When Egyptians head to the polls on 26-27 May, Abdul Fattah Al Sisi is widely expected to win by a landslide. His sole opponent, Hamdeen Sabbahi, is seen to stand little to no chance of winning or even gaining a significant portion of the votes. This has led some to question why he decided to run in the first place, if the odds are so evidently slim.

Faced with such overwhelming odds, what sort of approach will serve Sabbahi best? If not to win, then at least to gain a large enough share of the vote to establish himself as the only real opposition, something he has vowed to do in the event of his defeat.

If the powers-of-attorney are anything to go by, Sabbahi really does not have a hope. While Sabbahi collected 31,555 signatures, Sisi managed to get 188,930. So out of a total of 220,485 signatures, only 14.3 percent were for Sabbahi. Can he do better in the actual elections? It may be possible, but whether or not it is likely is a moot point.

A recent poll conducted by Egyptian Al-Watan newspaper showed Sisi and Sabbahi almost neck-and-neck. Sabbahi initially had a small lead over Sisi, at 51 to Sisi’s 49 percent, until Sisi climbed a few more points to overtake him. Naturally, the representational accuracy of this poll cannot be verified.

Out of Egypt’s political parties and associations, at least six have backed Sabbahi: his own Karama Party, the Dostour Party, the Al-Adl Party, the Popular Current, the Social Popular Alliance Party, and the Revolutionary Socialists. Unfortunately for him, these parties do not represent a considerable portion of the population.

Egypt does have one untapped electoral resource that Sabbahi would be wise to exploit: Egypt’s disillusioned and politically apathetic youth. Only the final voter turnout results will tell for sure, but there is certainly a degree of political apathy, among the youth in particular. If Sabbahi can appeal to this segment of the population, he stands to gain a huge number of votes. When one takes into consideration that the average age in Egypt is 25 years, appealing to this group makes a lot of sense.

Furthermore, there are those who opposed the ouster of President Muhammad Morsi. In a recent leaked telephone call, Sabbahi apparently said that he would put Sisi on trial if he became president. He said that this was not out of any conviction of Sisi’s guilt, but to serve the course of justice. Although the authenticity of this leaked call remains unverified, such a claim might persuade some opponents of Morsi’s removal to vote for Sabbahi.

Sabbahi has also vowed to release activists who have been wrongly detained.

The Muslim Brotherhood is not an option for Sabbahi as far as electoral support goes. While his leaked phone call might be appealing to them, he recently confirmed that the ban on the group and its activities would remain in place. It would also not be good for his Nasserist credentials to actively seek their support.

In matters of policy Sabbahi might also find an opening for gaining votes. Sisi’s platform revolves around security and stability. In his televised interview he outlined his vision for the economy, security, and other matters. What Sisi has not spoken of in any detail is poverty. As a socialist, this is Sabbahi’s natural playing field. By appealing to the millions of poverty-stricken Egyptians, Sabbahi could gain their favour.

Personal appeal is an area where Sisi remains far ahead of Sabbahi. Indeed, many former supporters of Sabbahi have turned on him and will support him no longer for various reasons. Yet even here, there is room for manoeuvre.

One of Sabbahi’s most well-known campaign slogans is “One of Us”. By presenting himself as a man of the people, and communicating with them directly and connecting with them, Sabbahi could well do better in this regard than many would expect. One huge advantage he has is that he can actually go to public rallies and speak to people. Sisi, who by his own count has survived two assassination attempts already, cannot risk going to speak at public rallies and must content himself with televised appearances.

Despite Sisi’s status as a hero of the nation, Sabbahi can utilise the fact that he can make his personal presence felt all over Egypt. He certainly tailors his rhetorical style to this end, which often appears to echo that of former President Gamal Abdul Nasser. While he cannot hope to match Nasser’s eloquence or popularity, he is certainly trying to employ the same style.

One final tool at Sabbahi’s disposal is to attack or criticise his opponent. Sabbahi has indeed used this tactic, albeit less so recently. There is also the fact that Sisi will probably not appear in a public debate with Sabbahi, a debate many believe would cause Sisi to lose a lot of support. Sabbahi could utilise this fact and call Sisi out for refusing to debate him.

At the end of the day all of the above is theoretical until Sabbahi actually does it. Even if he manages to tap into youth voters, in addition to the support of the parties backing him, Sisi’s overwhelming popularity will probably still prove the larger force. Furthermore, Sabbahi cannot hope to attract all the “poor” voters. The recent social and economic instability has hit them the hardest and vast numbers of them will be attracted by Sisi’s promise of stability.

Sabbahi is making sure that he appears connected to the people with numerous public appearances and rallies. His speeches are friendly and less formal than Sisi’s public statements. However, Sisi’s statesman-like demeanour projects an air of authority that Sabbahi cannot hope to match. This makes Sisi appear to be “presidential material”.

Many of the aforementioned strategies are already in use by Sabbahi. Whether this will give him a chance of winning a sizeable portion of the votes remains in question. Sisi’s widespread popularity will almost certainly ensure his electoral victory. But if Sabbahi has the nous to use the right strategy, and target the right voter groups, he can ensure that even in defeat he remains the only viable opposition to Sisi’s presidency.

This article was originally published in the Middle East Media Center for Studies website http://www.memcs.comon May 10th, 2013.  It is written by  Adam Woodard.

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The Rise of Political Apathy: Egypt’s Falling Participation Rates

With just over a month to go before presidential elections, political apathy is becoming a growing concern in Egypt. Following the removal of Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, the country has been rocked by periodic violence and protests. Many have been arrested or killed in the dispersals of violent protests, and terrorist attacks across the country have claimed hundreds more. Amidst such fear and instability, more and more Egyptians are becoming disenchanted with political participation.

Apathy, characterised by a lack of interest or indifference to matters of concern, is evident in the falling rates of participation in either the institutional political process or the protests that have become commonplace since 2011.

In the protests that took place on 30th June until Morsi’s removal on 3rd July, millions of Egyptians took to the streets in what were widely referred to as some of the biggest popular protests in history, and undoubtedly, the biggest episode of collective action known in Egyptian history.

The ouster of Mohamed Morsi was met with opposing protests in Raba’a Al-Adawiya and NahdaSquares, which were dispersed by security forces in August 2013 after serious threats to the security of citizens and the civil infrastructure in both areas. What followed was widely criticised as a harsh crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, who have taken to protesting regularly ever since, albeit in increasingly dwindling numbers.

The new constitution that was ratified in January 2014 by popular referendum received a 98.1% ‘yes’ vote, with voter turnout at 38.6%. Although this was higher than the turnout for the referendum under Morsi in 2012, which was 32%, it remains below the 41.9% turnout seen in March 2011 in the referendum on constitutional amendments held after the January 25th revolution under the authority of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF). Moreover, the staggeringly high approval rating was a clear indication that a large portion of the population had been disenchanted or discouraged.

Protests of all political affiliations have also steadily decreased in numbers with time. This overall decrease in participation has many reasons. It is worth noting that until presidential and parliamentary elections take place it will not be possible to accurately assess participation in the political process, and protests remain the only constant and regular indicator of participation or the lack thereof.

One of the primary reasons for the constantly dwindling number of protests is Law 107 of 2013, the controversial protest law passed on 24th November 2013.

The law has roused much debate since it was passed, with many rights groups saying that it is a threat to freedom of expression. Human Rights Watch stated on their website that it, “Will Enable Further Crackdown, Stifle Electoral Campaigning”.

Further, Amnesty International stated that:

“In practice, the vague and overbroad grounds in the law will not only allow the authorities to prevent or forcibly disperse protests by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, but it will essentially allow for a ban on all opposition protests.”

One of the more controversial articles in the law is Article 7, which lists some very vague actions as violations. According to the law, protests cannot “impact on public services, transportation or the flow of traffic”. Further, a protest cannot violate “general security, public order, or production”.

The interior minister or security director may prohibit, postpone, or reroute any protest as part of an “authorised reasoned decision”.

However, those who defend the law see it as a political necessity rather than a legislative regulation. “How different political groups concur on issuing the law proves that it is a temporary matter and a respnose to threats to state security” said Dr. Yousri Ezbawi, researcher at the Ahram Center for Political & Strategic Studies. Ezbawi added that “the protest law will be among the very first legislative amendments the next elected Parliament will vote on, it is a matter of responding to security threats and changing social and political conditions”.

In addition to the state’s tough stance on protests, terrorist and militant activity have been on the rise since Morsi’s ouster. The Middle East Institute and state-owned Al-Ahram Online place the death toll from terrorist attacks at 150 police officers, 74 soldiers, and 57 civilians.

In light of the worrying death toll, widespread arrests, and ever-present threat of terrorist attack, it is only natural that the population would be less willing to take to the streets. Coupled with the new protest law, it serves to effectively dissuade many would-be protesters.

Former First-Undersecretary of State for Foreign Cultural Relations in the Ministry of Culture, Hossam Nassar, dismissed the fears of political apathy, saying that “politics is not just about taking to the streets, but about social and political participation as well as involvement in political events such as referenda.” He further stated that even children are showing an interest in politics, and that contrary to the belief of many, youth participation is not decreasing.

When asked about the future of participation, he said he confidently expects a voter turnout of at least 27 million – approximately half of those registered. With regard to the Brotherhood and other protesters, he believes that they no longer possess the weight and influence they once had.

Rana Allam, Managing Editor of independent newspaper Daily News Egypt, when asked about political apathy stated that, “it is not apathy, it is despair”. She states that the youth in particular have lost hope in the political process. She notes that even though voter turnout was about 6% higher in the last referendum, 38% is still a low figure – not even near half of those registered.

With regard to the upcoming presidential elections, she said that voter turnout will be “laughable”.

It is clear that, whatever the actual state of political apathy is, the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections will be a clear indicator of the mood of the population. The Muslim Brotherhood has already declared its intention to boycott the presidential elections, and another overwhelmingly one-sided vote would indicate a lack of progress where apathy is concerned.

Whether we like it or not, the future of Egypt’s political participation lies in the ballot box rather than in public squares.

This article was originally published in the Middle East Media Center for Studies website http://www.memcs.com. It is written by  Adam Woodard, Sara Mohsen and Yahia Gweifel.

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