The Arab Spring’s summersault

The International Herald Tribune Daily News

May 30  2011

Philip Whitfield

CAIRO: Take stock. Egypt’s democratic dream hangs by a thread. Libya’s death throes and Syria’s killing fields are civil war nightmares. Yemen is a chimera, Bahrain has been bludgeoning and Tunisia is a memory. Scorching rays overwhelm the Arab spring’s refreshing breezes. Which way should we look for the revolution’s resolution?

Are we in an interregnum, a temporary freedom, or an antebellum, a period preceding more bloodshed? The raging undercurrent swirls groping for an identity that responds to a sense of Islamic belonging while respecting other faiths and global concerns. Pluralism necessitates compromises, which riles zealots, branded bigots.

Take a wider view. The G8 Summit in Deauville last week offered Egypt respite if promises to democratize are fulfilled. Others weighed in with billion-dollar boons. The International Monetary Fund said MENA’s non-oil countries need $160 billion injected in the next three years. The region needs to prepare for a fundamental transformation of its economic model.

Egypt could become the breadbasket of the Middle East, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s Jonathan Charles said. The woefully undeveloped agricultural industry employing 30 percent of the population only yields 16 percent of production. Agriculture is ripe for reconstruction.

Take heart. History’s lantern illuminates visionaries’ solutions. Let’s look closer at Europe, remembering that World War II took 60 million lives, ended uncertainly and yet today reaches accord on baffling, discordant matters.

Who would have thought it? European nations tried to shuck off their suzerains in the 19th century. The French turfed out Louis Philippe. Germany, Denmark, Austria, Italy, Spain, Romania, and Belgium underwent revolutions.

But, as the historian A.J.P. Taylor reflected, history reached a turning point and failed to turn. The revolutions mostly failed. In Italy, the monarchy returned. The French ended up with a dictator, Louis-Napoleon after a coup d’état in 1851. German states’ unity failed. Austria returned to rule Hungary. Other revolutions lost their luster and died out.

A hundred years later after World War II culminated in 60 million deaths, Europe was ready to begin an arduous journey to resolve their differences amicably. Their thinking was based on ideas promulgated by Count Richard Nikolaus Graf Coudenhove-Kalergi the son of an Austro-Hungarian diplomat and a Japanese mother.

He’d mooted Pan-Europa, political, economic and social cooperation, arguing that the constitution of a wide market with a stable currency was the vehicle for Europe to reconstruct its potential. He, like Jean Monet, the father of European unity, never sought public office.

Monet’s vision of European cooperation was based on a new economic order. During a meeting in Algiers in 1943 Money declared: There will be no peace in Europe if the states are reconstituted on the basis of national sovereignty. The countries of Europe are too small to guarantee their peoples the necessary prosperity and social development. The European states should constitute themselves into a federation, Monet said.

France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands formed the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951 making it practically impossible for France and Germany to go to war.

Production of coal and steel as a whole was placed under a common authority. No more fighting over the rich Ruhr region. The benefits enjoyed by one part of Europe would be distributed across the whole.

The treaty establishing the European Economic Community followed six years later. Since then eight treaties have expanded the renamed European Union’s governance, the last at Lisbon in 2007, affirming the EU’s three pillars of cooperation over economic, social and foreign policy.

These monumental agreements have grown an economy to $18 trillion by the 500 million people in 27 countries of the EU, bigger than the USA’s 307 million people’s $14 trillion and compares with MENA’s 460 million people’s meager $2 trillion – the latter in spite of holding about a third of the world’s energy resources.

Visionaries aren’t guiding the pacesetters in the rerum mutatio, the hiatus between revolution and new order. Pragmatic tinkerers hold the line. Where is the bold, valiant sage with the farsightedness to unite the Middle East in a modern Khilafah, unified in one polity? The region shares history, culture, and language. The same or similar books, newspapers and magazines are read. Mostly they watch the same TV programs and movies.

Since 1945 the more than 20 members of the Arab League, at least on paper, recognize each is a part of an Arab nation, the Ummah Arabiyyah. Yet they remain divided politically and economically. The Middle East economies are more competitive than complementary.

Dr. Hani Fakhouri, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Michigan, says practicing dangerous demagoguery has led the Arab League in particular and the political leaderships of the Arab world nowhere. Over six decades of agreements covering the Arab economic market, defense, employment, education and water and food security have yielded not one result of significance, he says. Free trade among Arab states amounts to only 5 percent of all Arab states’ trades.

Authoritarian, corrupt regimes in the Arab world are the obstacles to meaningful, constructive progress that will enable the region to catch up with the rest of the world, Fakhouri says.

The three great ancient civilizations: the Chinese Qing dynasty, the Indian Mughal empire and the Ottoman empire in the Middle East were overtaken by European hegemony. The resurgence of China and India is apparent. Unfortunately the Middle East languishes in unfulfilled aspiration more than half a century after achieving independence.

None of the countries embroiled in revolution and those contemplating change can expect to emerge into a successful new era without unseating the tyrants. But that’s only half the job. To satisfy the revolutionary calls across the region, a new union is required that demolishes borders to permit the free movement of people, goods and capital and the bureaucracies that thrive on nitpicking national regulations.

That will radically reduce the cost of goods and services, eliminate the hundreds of thousands of officials pickpocketing the public’s purse and entice global investment into the region rather than scatterings of consumers.

The 1.4 million-strong militias in the region’s 22 countries need streamlining into a force whose mission exceeds protecting themselves from themselves.

Above all, leaders should spend their time developing the potential of its young people rather than finagling ways to choke the craving for manumission, freedom from servitude.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo-based writer. He can be reached at pjwcairo@yahoo.com or twittered @mohendessin.

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Too many cooks spoil the brouhaha

The International Herald Tribune Daily News

May 26 2011

Philip Whitfield


Elvis crooned: Wise men say only fools rush in …some things are meant to be. Are we to believe that villainy preordained Egypt’s crepuscule, a dark place? Or may we take heart that after the miscreants are culled the virtuous will open the windows to enlightenment?

Optimists like me prefer the latter. But we have to adopt new thinking. Which is why Egyptians shouldn’t shy away from putting their thinking caps on. The problem is that thinking aloud is fuelling dissent.

The Irish writer Brendan Behan said the first item on the agenda of any political party is the split. Apart from the fisticuffs after the First Conference of Egypt announced 124 names to ‘defend and continue the revolution’ there’s been a raging Twitter argument all week regarding Friday’s May 27th Tahrir demonstration.

One tweet: Mubarak and Adly must be executed for high treason after the civil suits are done with and we can get our hands on what was stolen from Egypt. Lest we forget, Mubarak and Adly killed more people in 18 days than Israel killed Palestinians in 40 days of ceaseless bombing.

Others are weighing up the pros and cons of another mass demonstration. Some say the army might crack down ruthlessly. Another quotes Malcolm X: If you’re not ready to die for it put the word freedom out of your vocabulary.

One important point being debated: elections are still a vague issue and not set. First prepare the land then cultivate (the philosopher’s tree of life).

Let’s step back. Civilization’s originators on the banks of the Nile bequeathed humankind with a methodology to grow thinking into scientific discovery. Look skywards. The moon appears to be the same size as the sun. But science took that unproven thought and established a rational argument that we believe even to this day that the sun (1.4 million km) is 400 times bigger than the moon (3,475 km). We can’t prove it for sure. But we can believe it based on the science to hand.

This interregnum between revolution and rebirth, between January 25 and the elections in September, is the opportunity to agree the truth.

People are questioning everything they believed previously. The stick in the water that appeared crooked yesterday was straight all the while, distorted when examined under water. Our collective vision was impaired by lies and deception. Barbarous solecism has made skeptics of all.

Today, we have the encouraging spectacle of people all over the country articulating their thoughts. In Maadi we hear a group bantering the pros and cons of this and that future for Egypt. We hear similar impromptu exchanges in Giza, Dokki and Mohandessin. No doubt you hear many more.

People are relishing their freedom to express themselves, without fear of being shut up in cells for daring to question the nobs. Rightfully, they discuss pragmatic ways to undo wrongs. They suggest new laws to be debated in assemblies. They want better wages, better housing, more food and more education for the kids.

The nation will be asked to find people to set the new course, the policymakers. Hopefully they will appoint bureaucrats to execute the mission with integrity. The Interior Ministry is already sacking its scallywags. Other ministries should clean out their smelly stables. New Egypt needs new cohabiters not autocratic, corrupt minister/minders. There can’t honestly be the same people making the regulations and regulating their own departments.

The new edifices should be built after society has established what is known for sure. Existentialists proclaim existence precedes essence: we are thrown into existence without a predetermined nature and only then do we construct our state through our actions. We are free to act independently. We create our own human nature through free choices. Think carefully what’s important to prevent the rogues returning.

We’re experiencing the limitations of public protest. January 25 was successful because the aim of removing the Mubarak regime was shared across the country. Everyone in Tahrir Square could show a shoe. The aims thereafter diverged, expressing views from right to left, from young to old, from poor to wealthy, from those of different religions and those with none. Their complaints and demands are critical to determining Egypt’s future.

The core of the new era must be agreement that tolerance is the essence of the revolution’s philosophy on which all other aspects of society can flourish.

The April 6 Youth Group and the Coalition of the Youth of the Revolution who’ve called for mass demonstrations on Friday as a ‘second revolution’ withdrew from the three-day National Dialogue Conference the effort to draft a new constitution and to prepare for elections. They objected to the presence of some leaders from the deposed NDP as well as prominent figures from the previous regime. Some reports said former NDP actors were ejected.

This intolerance bodes ill. Cool it. There are too many cooks spoiling the broth. On Friday the gathering in Tahrir should not descend into name-calling. Tahrir Square is not a parliament. It’s a place to come together in solidarity to show the powers that be that vox populi is a force to be reckoned with. The April 6 Youth Group and the Coalition of the Youth of the Revolution should re-request the people’s support. They can’t assume to have it. They should vote for a representative council. Then they can assert their influence on those who have taken it upon themselves to defend the revolution, not flounce away from the fray as they did from the First Conference of Egypt.

Choosing a representative council in Tahrir Square and giving them a mandate to consolidate their views is the political way forward. Neither should those who are so vociferous on the Internet shun the opportunity to join the council. Put up or shut up.

The multifarious views can be consolidated into demands by which candidates for office can be benchmarked. That way the Tahrir protesters will not be ignored. Friday’s demonstration should go ahead, proceeding with a definitive action plan that advances the process of democracy, not dissent.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo-based writer. He can be reached at pjwcairo@yahoo.com or twittered @mohendessin

Wolves in sheep’s clothing

The International Herald Tribune Daily News

May 23, 2011

By   Philip Whitfield

Anyone with a mobile phone knows the truth. We are in the throws of the knowledge revolution, as meaningful as the agricultural or the industrial revolutions, which shaped social revolutions across the globe.

At his farewell lunch last Thursday the British Ambassador Dominic Asquith coined an apposite phrase. Diplomats bewail hanging around for months with nothing moving, he said. Then in a week, the situation leaps forward decades. Dominic should know. He came to Cairo from Baghdad.

The issue for Egypt is to figure out which revolution comes first. The Tahrir revolution was a political revolt made possible by the IT revolution. Information and knowledge (information in context) was spread effectively on Twitter and Facebook to the chagrin of the rulers who pulled the plug on the Internet for a few days.

Control of information is a primary goal of governments. Syria, Iran and Zimbabwe are among the worst repressors of freedom of speech.

Britain reserves the right to impose information blackouts when the government believes national security is at stake.

The United States was founded on five inalienable rights. One, freedom of speech, is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Words that are deemed obscene, defamatory, would incite riot, or are fighting words are exceptions.

Yet as we’ve witnessed this year, the spread of information and knowledge, ignores jurisprudence. Wikipedia published secret cables between diplomats. The British courts are to consider prosecuting Twitter for carrying information about footballers’ extra-marital affairs. So all you need is a few seconds on a mobile to read diplomats’ thoughts and soccer players’ indiscretions.

The situation in Egypt is clear-cut. The press cannot criticize the military under the current law. Neither can it spread unfounded rumors. On the other hand, such is spread on Twitter. So what’s the point of continuing with a prohibition that is ineffective? A sensible approach would be to include a redefined definition of freedom of speech in the new era constitution.

The industrial revolution crept into Barak Obama’s Middle East speech last week. If you take out oil exports, this entire region of over 400 million people exports roughly the same amount as Switzerland ($232.6 billion in 2010), the president said.

Obama said the US will work with the EU to facilitate more trade within the region, build on existing agreements to promote integration with U.S. and European markets, and open the door for those countries who adopt high standards of reform and trade liberalization to construct a regional trade arrangement.

Just as EU membership served as an incentive for reform in Europe, he said, so should the vision of a modern and prosperous economy create a powerful force for reform in the Middle East and North Africa.

Lunching with a group of business leaders last week, we agreed that Egypt’s new era offers extraordinary opportunity for investors and companies in Egypt. The key is to encourage and mobilize the millions of young people who find it so difficult to get good jobs.

We should take heart from Brazil, Russia, India and China. For decades the BRICs disappointed. Under pressure from their populations they eased restrictions and mobilized their workforces. To them it has been a revolution of their societies.

What’s needed in Egypt is a tangible demonstration that Egypt has vanquished corruption, supports entrepreneurs and is committed to a market economy, not stultified government ownership. Words aren’t sufficient to quell the skeptics.

The election of a new president and parliament offers the opportunity to show the world that Egypt is embracing these changes. Reelecting wolves in sheep’s clothing spells disaster.

The agricultural revolution is long awaited. You can buy produce shipped to Scotland that is in far better condition than the fruit and vegetables on the shelves in Cairo.

This is because in Egypt the produce is mostly transported domestically in un-refrigerated conditions. I’m told if the finance were available for commercial loans the costs of introducing cooler vans could be amortized over 10 years and would make the sale of pristine produce viable.

Egypt’s sluggish approach and preservation of protectionism is doomed. As Twitter proves, the Information Age is a world without communication borders, sharing information, which begets knowledge, which begets wisdom.

The wise will ungag Egypt to allow ideas to flourish.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo-based writer. He can be reached at pjwcairo@yahoo.com or twittered @mohendessin

Dial 9-1-1 & hold the phone

The International Herald Tribune Daily News

May 11, 2011

By   Philip Whitfield

Lightening the mood at a tête-à-tête with the Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai coming up to 25 years after Chairman Mao’s fall from grace, Henry Kissinger asked what he thought was Mao’s contribution. Zhou replied: Too early to say.

With seemingly almost everyone prepared to write off the Mubaraks, bear in mind the family’s gilt-edged Rolodex has the names, numbers, dates and whereabouts that could empty half of Heliopolis. Given their predicament, Suzanne, Gamal and Alaa could fill a refugee boat with high rollers.

They’ve got the power to force the next government to supersize a prison to hold them all if they choose to cook the crooks. Who knows how many diggers might be needed if Hosni fluffs his lines in the state confessional?

So expect the plot to change as Judgment Day nears. We’re going to witness realpolitik, the art of pragmatism bludgeoning ideology, pejorative to bash perjurers blabbing before their interrogators.

When I came to Cairo in 2002 to try my hand at writing a book, one of Mubarak’s henchmen, a cop, told me as he pointed out the scammers in Talaat Harb Street: Everyone lies. Truth doesn’t count. The guys with the best lies win.

Arrayed before the recently duplicitous exposed is an amalgam of ill-equipped, good natured naïves, strong on tweets, weak on muscle. They’re too nice for conventional rough and tumble. They pulled off the coup aided and abetted by nobody but themselves. Now what?

The African proverb When spider webs unite they can catch a lion proved prophetic. Most salient is the leadership vacuum. Politics and nature abhor inanition. Unlikely elements tend to slink in and weasel their way in to control.

What’s concerning many is the list of the repugnant preconditions laid down thus far such as no women and no one under 40 to run for the highest office.

By a fluke, Mary Robinson and me share a godchild. Mrs. Robinson routed the jelly-leggers for the presidency of Ireland and transformed that office into a vibrant movement for change, a bulwark for courageous endeavor on behalf of subjugated Irish women, smothered by chauvinists in a dreary political bog. She went on to serve as a stellar High Commissioner for Human Rights for the United Nations giving hope, aid and comfort to the dispossessed on this planet. Women have demonstrated their acumen to run countries.

Rome wasn’t built overnight and Egypt won’t be reborn painlessly either. But the women who rock the cradles deserve a significant role in the regeneration. Patriotism is not a men only club, though I tend to agree with Samuel Johnson that it’s the last refuge of the scoundrel.

Youth’s another matter. Generation Y who gave their all to better society have earned a pivotal role. If you ask Brits who was England’s greatest Englishman, nine out of ten would cite Winston Churchill – in his seventies when World War II ended and forgetting the electorate showed Winnie the door given the first opportunity to vote after the war.

Historians, however, confer the distinction on William Pitt the younger, known as the Great Reformer, effectively PM and Finance Minister for almost 19 years after being trusted with the job at the age of 24 in1783. Young Pitt cleaned up the rotten boroughs, threw out his own party’s good-for-nothing gerrymanders, led the nation out of penury, reorganized India and Canada, introduced the first banknotes and kept Napoleon on his toes throughout the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. He raised enough cash for Admiral Nelson to win the Battle of Trafalgar and save the country from invasion and arranged a clever alliance of Russians, Swedes and Austrians. Puts NATO to shame, hey? Remember, Pitt was only 24 when he was given the front door key to Number 10 Downing Street.

Unless Egypt’s young revolutionaries and women are included in the new society we’ll be back in Tahrir Square scraping up scapegoats and the Mubarak mob will be gloating on Al Jazeera’s phone lines with plausible told-you-so’s. That will defame the impeccable intentions of those who were tried and tested only to find themselves sidelined by unscrupulous political hacks. There’s time to emend the script, time to graciously yield the offices to virtuous worthies.

Form a queue ladies and gentlemen, young and old, and let all the people pronounce their preferences. Let Justice do her work undeterred by those cracking boulders under the hard labor regimen they, themselves, decreed for villains.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo-based writer. He can be reached at pjwcairo@yahoo.com or twittered @mohendessin.

Count on it: open the box

The International Herald Tribune Daily News

May 10 2011

By Philip Whitfield

Free and fair elections aren’t assured by access to the ballot box. They’re secured by counting the ballots openly with invigilators on hand to verify that each voter’s intention is honestly tallied up. The Constitutional Referendum vote was a step in the right direction. Now let’s go the whole hog.

Here’s the plan.

  1. As on March 19th open the doors of polling stations early (i.e. before lunch) and close them late (i.e. before dawn). Then bid the party hacks farewell and allow the international observers to clamp the boxes and load them into sealed vans for the journey to Cairo.
  2. Next day, at the Stad El-Qahira El-Dawly, arrange the boxes on trestle tables in full view and bring in the NGOs to unlock the boxes and supervise the counters scrutinizing the expected 14 million ballot papers,
  3. Post each result on the Stadium’s electric scoreboards for the bug-eyed snoops, the TV maidens, Uncle Tom Cobley and all to ooh and aah, parse, pontificate, truckle and fawn.
  4. Next day, declare the winners one by one. By law, the losers must stand alongside and clap. (I tell ya, that’ll draw a TV audience bigger than Gamal’s first outing as Zamalek’s manager versus Ahly, then owned by his bro. Or do they own them already by proxy?) Careful now, we mustn’t prologue the Book of Evidence.

Flies in the ointment? Cost, time delays, disruption, little if any opportunity for graft (I’m joking of course). Truth replacing myth, an excess of jubilation, humbling the mighty, elevating the poor and humble…add to the list as you will.

Rebuttal arguments.

1. If the permanent Establishment (Are there any left in Egypt, by the way?) won’t cooperate, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton will gladly loan Airforce One, Two and the backup drones to fly around Egypt collecting the boxes to get them to the Stadium on time.

2. Joy is the natural state of Egyptians, not to be confused with grumpiness, the archetypical Cairenee mode de combat at the back of the bread queue. Drag Zahi Hawass away from his website (drhawass.com) or the haberdashery and he’ll tell you the Ancient Egyptians were fun lovers, which is why they sent their leaders to join Horus, god of the skies, laden with wine, haute cuisine, honey, scent and finerery.

3. Humility was absent from the NDP night school curriculum. Street fighting, mugging and making mayhem left little time for atonement.

If you think I’m peddling dogma think twice. The folks who wrote the New Testament pinched it all from Psalm 41 (i), Proverbs 14 (xxi) and Proverbs 29 (xii). I’m sure my inbox is already full of similar references in the Koran etc. and from my personal library comprising, on the top shelf, the Tipitaka, the Kitáb-i-Íqán, the Shurangama Sutra; a couple of my favorites the Rasa’il al- hikma and the Druze Book of Wisdom and Jainism’s Svetambara, which advocates killing no living thing, including beet and carrot roots; Manichaism’s essential the Treasure of Life and last but by no means least a space left by the New Age Religion’s Oahspe, lent out and oddly not returned and which I haven’t found Diwan’s copy round at their Shehab Street bookery.

The point I’m laboring is this. Just as you can’t get half pregnant, you can’t have bits of democracy hither and yon. It’s an all-or-nothing winner takes all kind of thing. If the mobsters did, as with JFK’s bootlegger pappy, who put the fix in for his son stuffing the ballot boxes overnight in Chicago with Mayor Bill Daley, remember what little good that did Jack Kennedy in the long term.

And the bad guys got Robert Kennedy for good measure with a bullet in the back of his head walking through the kitchen of the LA Ambassador Hotel when he was pipped to win the California primary and ipso facto the White House his brother tragically enjoyed for a mere two years and two days.

The baddies (as well as the poor) will be with us for all time. So just because one family of mobsters was felled in Egypt, its odds on another will be plotting to take their place. No one in his right mind would turn down a guaranteed pension of LE 2,000 and, what was it an annual salary of LE 5 grand?

What do we do about that? Rig the polls. Yes rig the polls, in such a mathematically complex way that no one really wins at all, everyone is dissatisfied, all the eventual winners have to get into bed with people they hate to grab a bit of power (which for them is better than no power at all). And even then, they can’t resist raiding the cookie jar. We Brits invented the system. We call it divide and conquer. Set the locals at each other’s throats and carry on sergeant major, BP, Barclays, HSBC, HP Sauce, Earl Gray… Think Palestine, Cyprus, Ireland, Iraq/Iran, the whole freakin’ Commonwealth. Oh my goodness didn’t we do well?

In recent times we’ve discovered another ruse to remain ruling. It’s called proportional representation or AV (don’t ask what that’s all about.) In countries where they have been hornswoggled they’re in a constant apoplexy over who’ll be their next President/PM/ dogcatcher or chief justice, so much so that politics becomes irrelevant (think Italy and Berlusconi) and the ordinary Joe gets on just fine grafting.

An unfortunate choice of word maybe, but it’s the one chance ordinary Egyptians have for a snout in the trough. And, here’s the ever-popular coup de theater, the suits shuffle off through the wings and go bully family friends and hangers on who, though they don’t say it out loud, see their taskmasters are Mugwumps. To save you looking them up the sanctimonious or holier-than-thou-ers aloof from the rest of us.

Careful you don’t name local Mugs in your tweets, but I’ll start with Sarah Palin and George W. Bush…where are they now?

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo-based writer. He can be reached at pjwcairo@yahoo.com or twittered @mohendessin.


 

 

The goose is cooked

International Herald Tribune Daily News

May 5 2011

By Philip Whitfield

Egypt’s justice minister, Mohamed El-Guindi, says President Hosni Mubarak faces the death penalty if convicted of ordering shooting the protesters, according to Al Ahram. Will he go to the gallows before or after the former Minister of Interior Habib El-Adly who’s caught between a rock and a hard place. The predicaments expose legal traps.

Let’s get acquainted with the law as it might suck anyone in. I might tell my daughter to pick up a goose for Holiday lunch at the grocery store. I tell her they know me. Tell them who it’s for, I say. Emma goes down to the store in Gameat elDowal el-Arabiya, gets the bird and shoves it in Olivia’s stroller before waltzing out of the door.

Stop thief, cries the manager. A policeman weighs in. Emma can’t speak Arabic. Olivia just giggles as they’re both hauled off in a Paddy wagon.

Summoned, I explain the situation: Emma thought by telling the checkout girl she was Mr. Phil’s daughter she was OK because she assumed I ran a tab at Metro. I said Emma was acting under orders. So if anyone is arrested it should be me. That’s right, says Emma, I tried to tell you Dad was the culprit. I was just doing what he told me to do. If I hadn’t, we would have been punished with no lunch.

The judge, however, takes a different view. He says the burden fell on Emma. She should have known the order she interpreted to mean don’t pay for goods was illicit and therefore she bore subordinate responsibility.

On the other hand, if she believed the order to be licit, she bore absolute responsibility for the theft, and furthermore three-year-old Olivia’s giggling expressed complicity and should have her pocket money rescinded. The judge orders we all get bird.

Back to the Habib El-Adly/ Hosni Mubarak case. Unfortunately for them Justice Minister El-Guindi has already recited the penalty (death) and it seems clear both accused get lynched either way they plead. If El-Adly claims he was only acting on Mubarak’s orders he’s double dead: the first time for acceptingon the order to shoot and kill; the second hanging because, like Emma, admitting the commission of an illicit act is tantamount to a guilty plea.

We hear from the same source that though they attempted to destroy the evidence – a CD recording of Ahmed Ramzy, the former head of central security, giving orders to his colleagues on January 28th to use live ammunition to kill protesters – a transcript of a garbled copy of the tape is in the bundle of evidence.

Ramzy says he’s exonerated from the crime of murder because he was ordered to enact the lethal command by El-Adly. But Ramzy is in the same sinking ship as Mubarak and El-Adly, drowning fast. So are his compadres on the rooftops who engaged their safety locks, loaded the ammunition and fired the fatal bullets.

Going up the chain of command, we turn to Mubarak. In his defense he calls allies (Gamal Mubarak and then vice President Omar Suleiman) who are on record saying they didn’t hear him give the shoot-to-kill order. It might be hard to establish who heard what and when. If Mubarak calls his witnesses, his cold case becomes red hot. The world and their mothers will be at the courthouse to hear every word Mubarak uttered in the hours leading up to his downfall.

Let’s see what the prosecution says.

Could both witnesses have been with Mubarak for every second of every hour from the start of the revolt on January 25 until February 11 – the date when Mubarak was taken into protective custody?

Witness: Certainly not.

Prosecutor: You heard Mubarak say nothing about killing people?

Witness: Yes.

Prosecutor: You heard nothing?

Witness: Yes.

Prosecutor: What does nothing sound like?

Witness: Silence.

Prosecutor: Describe noise then.

Witness: People talking.

Prosecutor: What were they saying?

Judge and jury: Gotcha.

If the defense witnesses do spill the beans, spy central at The Mugamma with its 1,200 rooms on 14 floors will hardly be space enough to take depositions. If the snitches stick to their story guffaws will echo across Tahrir Square. The Mubarak gang is as tainted as Al Capone’s. Gyp the Blood, Bugsy Moran, Johnny Torrio and Lefty Louie could have claimed Al Capone was reverently studying scripture during the St. Valentine’s Day massacre. Even if the incredible were true, no one would have believed them.

Even if prosecution/defense tapes recorded every word inside Abdeen Palace, or wherever Mubarak was, we’re looking at a replay of the President Nixon drama: 2,371 hours of tapes that damned him into oblivion. What else might be discovered if Mubarak’s fateful last few hours of power are replayed? Mubarak’s defense falls 1) His hirelings were under his command. The commander-in-chief bears responsibility for his minions’ licit or illicit actions. 2) No one disputes that gunmen acting under orders that killed 800 people were sent down the chain of command presided over by Mubarak.

The issue is one that haunts every country after a revolution. After the turmoil the leaders of the new regime that want or are forced to restore democracy in their country are confronted with litigation regarding counterinsurgency actions taken by those trying to save their necks. To overcome the hazard of facing prosecution, many countries have tried to absolve those involved of their alleged crimes.

That doesn’t wash. International law decrees impunity from prosecution is against the statutes of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ratified in 1982, which Egypt signed without reservation.

Amnesty laws are often problematic on a cost-benefit basis: Is avoiding bringing the old leadership to justice worth extending the predictable ire and increased casualties among those who want the tyrants brought to book and those that want to close the chapter? In Egypt’s the Mubarak’s would do well to wave their rights to legal aid and pay for their own arraignment and sentencing.

Ominously for Mubarak justice minister El-Guindi says the only one capable of pardoning Mubarak would be the new president, injudiciously addling: If I were the president, I will not pardon him for killing 800 martyrs.

Ergo, ipso facto (QED), case closed.

Or as we say the goose is cooked.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo-based writer. He can be reached at pjwcairo@yahoo.com or twittered @mohendessin.

Mayday Mayday

The International Herald Tribune Daily News

May 3 2011

By Philip Whitfield

Although May Day began as a commemoration of stonemasons in Australia, the idea spread after the 1886 Haymarket massacre in Chicago. Police opened fire on a peaceful workers’ demonstration, killing at least 12, including one of their own policemen.

Nerves jangle with high spirits this May Day as Rania Al-Malky, the Chief Editor of the Daily News Egypt pointed out in her germane commentary over the weekend. She says romantic notions shouldn’t supplant natural justice. The military are flouting the long-held rights of civilians to require justice be meted out in people’s courts, not in the military’s secretive barracks where justice snoozes through the proceedings.

As Rania says, if the military is policing the streets in these extraordinary times, then they have every right to arrest anyone engaging in criminal activity. But that’s where their jurisdiction ends. After all Mubarak, his sons and their henchmen are enjoying full-fledged civil trials, as should everyone else.

Armies are blunt weapons of war and peace. Egypt’s is doing quite well. But it becomes increasingly clear they sharpen their cutlery if their role as ultimate protectors of society threatens what they regard as their exclusive precinct.

Elsewhere, particularly in South America, the juntas seize power whenever they see the politicians messing up their demesnes. It happens every few years in Pakistan. It’s happening now in Myanmar, the place we used to call Burma. Protecting the people there meant the military incarcerating Aung San Suu Kyi for 15 years after she won 59 percent of the national votes and 81 percent (392 of 485) of the seats in parliament. Coups in Muslim countries are not exempt. Egypt’s closest Colonel, Muammar Muhammad al-Gaddafi, seized power 42 years ago and is still hanging on by a thread. Mauritania and Bangladesh periodically suffer under their own jackboots. You’d be on tour own if you believed democracy is flourishing in Afghanistan. One way or another Hamid Karzai clings on with tens of thousands of troops from everywhere holding him up. Iraq and Syria? Don’t go there.

That begs the question: will Egypt’s military step out of the limelight if the Muslim Brotherhood wins the 50 percent of the seats they’ve announced they’ll contest? Surely that means they earn the right to appoint the prime minister and his government and, effectively, sideline whoever wins the presidency to an ineffective ceremonial?

If the Brothers do win a democratic election, will they get Hamassed – by which I mean the US and Europe cuts off financial aid to Egypt as they did to Gaza? After all, Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy are at the back of the pack in an uphill race for their presidencies’ renewal. Their right-wingers will try to block the Brothers cashing in what could be used pay off their debts to the fellow travelers that underwrote their existence in political exile.

Faced with imminent national bankruptcy, won’t the army step in again, to restore the status quo? They have and will in other countries. Coups d’état are common in Africa, (home of Egypt’s denizens). Between 1952 and 2000, 33 countries experienced 85 depositions. West Africa (where Egypt endenizens) had 42.

There’s something else to watch out for. When rulers don’t want to be seen taking unpopular decisions, they duck them by appointing tribunals of worthies to do the dirty work. That way they can either accept their findings, reject them or put them on the back burner.

Which is why the new era’s leaders need to a bulldozer and a wrecking ball to smash the edifice of power to smithereens. They could follow the South African example and establish Truth or Truth and  Reconciliation Commissions (TRC). By means of their reports, they directly or indirectly contribute to reparations of victims; the financial, medical, social and other consequences of human rights abuses to be born by those responsible.

If you expect the perps in Egypt to pony up voluntarily wait for Hell to freeze over. No one in Egypt has ever been recorded dipping into their back pocket to offer a refund. (I tried to get a watchmaker to replace one he’d sold me in Qasr alNil and which stopped every two months requiring replacement batteries. I don’t make the batteries, he said, refusing to accept any liability for the defective watch mechanism).

Let’s read the words of an expert, Professor. Dr. G. G. J. Knoops, who addressed a symposium on The Right to Self-Determination in International Law  Organized 29 September – 1 October 2006  at The Hague, Netherlands.

Dr Knoops said though it seems to many, the proper response to the perpetrators of human rights abuses, violence, ethnic cleansing, or genocide, must be criminal proceedings by some sort of tribunal, a court of law (international law, perhaps) duly authorized to render judicial dispositions: to establish justifiable facts of the matter, to render verdicts and, if called for, to punish.

But, he concluded, truth commissions (including the more ambitious truth and reconciliation commissions) cannot by their nature deliver this sort of justice.

In other words truth and reconciliation commissions cannot prosecute and try alleged human rights abusers. They can only offer alternative forms of justice such as restorative justice.

One of the five pillars of Islam is the practice of sharing the Zakat. This is not optional charitable giving say Egyptian Islamic jurists. It is an obligatory payment by those who seek to  purify themselves of greed and selfishness.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo-based writer. He can be reached at pjwcairo@yahoo.com or twittered @mohendessin.