Mubarak’s silver bullet

International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

July 29 2011

Philip Whitfield

CAIRO: Hosni Mubarak admitted he was obstinate. Once his mind was made up, he seldom had a change of heart. A close associate is said to have asked, why? Mubarak gave an odd reply.

He said a command from him was a bullet fired from his pistol. Once released, it could not be brought back.

There was an order on his desk dismissing a relatively close aid. One who knew the full circumstances tried to convince him that the alleged offender was not responsible. Mubarak held the pen, prepared to sign the order.

The aid put his hand on the paper, preventing the signature and explained why the alleged miscreant was not responsible. He was out of the country and another man had assumed his duties.

Mubarak acquiesced and rescinded the order.

The anecdote has merit as Mubarak’s trial nears. Throughout his presidency, Mubarak was consumed by his own security. Layer upon layer of police and informers were assembled to listen for any murmur of discontent.

In the last few years, public opinion was measured scientifically to identify the tensions and stresses that could threaten his omnipotent rule. One such was the disruption his travelling in the city caused. Commuters fumed.

It was pointed out to him that by closing off the side streets, the motorcade had no escape route in the event of an ambush. He was assured his limousine was as bullet proof and bomb proof as could be made.

But his obstinate manner rejected any change.

Come the revolution in January he was a captive of his own perversity. He did not believe the people in Tahrir Square were representative of the national mood.

Neither does it appear that he understood the impact of not giving an order. If he’d sent out an order for the militia not to fire at demonstrators – if he’d drawn up such a document – it would be an absolute defense to the charge of committing mass murder.

The atmosphere in Mubarak’s office, I’m told, was always soldier-like. Very few civilians were inside the inner circle. Decisions were notated carefully, as is customary among generals. Mubarak, of course was the chief of staff, first among the 18 members of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

The military supreme council discusses, debates, but releases orders only after a unanimous decision has been made.

It’s important to reflect on this as a new constitution is being considered. The two words liberty and freedom are the pillars of constitutional democracy. The difference between the two is that liberty, according to Aristotle, allows a man to live, as he likes the privilege of a freeman, since, on the other hand, not to live as a man likes is the mark of a slave.

Liberty is enshrined in law. The political theorist Hanna Fenichel Pitkin said liberty implies a system of rules  – a network of restraint and order.

Freedom, on the other hand, is less constrained and can describe the feeling of a person unjustly imprisoned, able to manage the situation in the knowledge that one day he will be free, whereas his jailer will continue to be incarcerated in the cell block.

That may be apt in Egypt’s current situation. Do the former rulers want to retain their power, corrupt bureaucrats sitting at the same desks, leopards changing their spots biding their time until they’re pensioned off?

Or are they, as most want, prepared to dump the past and write a new charter.

Listening to a group of leaders of the revolution the other day, they seemed to think that Egypt is not ready to cede many of the powers of the presidency to a parliamentary democracy. I disagree.

On 10th December 1948 Egypt was one of the 48 signatories to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which specified in 30 articles the rights to which all human beings inherently are entitled.

The declaration of human rights was required after the abomination of crimes committed by dictators during World War II.

A similar declaration is required in Egypt before the country can move ahead. Pragmatic political decisions can wait awhile.

Someone in the presidential palace had the guts to tell Mubarak he’d lost all credibility. Someone escorted him out. History will no doubt reveal the full circumstances and who had the courage to end the carnage, though the debacle continued for some weeks afterwards.

Now what’s needed is the courage to create a new social compact between the government and the governed: one that enshrines the sentiments that were paramount in the establishment of enlightened democracies over the centuries and that have endured turbulence as embroiling as Egypt’s.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo-based commentator.


Groping in the fog of war

International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

July 27 2011

Philip Whitfield

CAIRO: The battle to win hearts and minds is today’s war of words. Not much has changed since Carl von Clausewitz defined military strategy as the employment of battles to gain the end of war. Soldiers are deployed with unambiguous objectives that envisage an end in sight.

In his treatise On War, the great Prussian military theorist Clausewitz (1780 -1831) espoused: All action must be planned in a mere twilight, which like the effect of a fog or moonshine gives to things exaggerated dimensions and unnatural appearance.

As the Tahrir demands rose to a crescendo in early February the army’s mission became restoring order. The fog is clearing to reveal the next stage after containment.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) announced measures to transfer power to civilians sometime after the election of a parliament and a president. That appears to be the unambiguous ultimate objective.

The elections are to be monitored by local civil society organizations, as was the case for the constitutional elections in March. However, according to Associated Press Egypt’s ruling generals are seeking to enshrine a future role for themselves with considerable independence from civilian leaders and possibly an authority to intervene in politics.

No doubt the military would have anticipated negative reactions. In their colleges they pour over the uncertainties of involvement in internal politics, always fearing the threat to national security balanced against democratic wishes.

They dread being sucked into a quagmire, particularly if the predictable opposition of student masses spreads through the trade unions and into the factories. Or the creation of urban militants such as the Irish Republican Army, which in one form or another has plagued the United Kingdom for 50 years and more.

Such was the case in Brazil, which was slipping towards communist rule in 1964. After 15 days searching for a democratic leader to their taste, the Brazilian Army Chief of Staff, Marshal Castelo Branco assumed the presidency saying he would rout out corruption, reform politics and revitalize the economy.

Authoritarian regimes continued for 21 years. They were supported by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and multinational companies, which viewed the Brazilian right-wing military dictatorship as a new, economically stable Western ally against international Communism. The economy slipped back.

SCAF is reserving for itself wide powers to influence Egypt’s post-election period. SCAF says it will put together guidelines for the new constitution. Their legal consultant Hisham El-Bastawisi says the military’s future role should guarantee supra-national principals – powers to intervene to protect basic human rights.

The problem is the military’s definition of human rights.

Bastawisi says the military should be immune from parliament scrutinizing its budget and passing laws affecting the military without the generals’ approval.

Why? Whose money is it? Theirs or the people’s?

The two times French prime minister Georges Clemenceau, described the problem: War is too important to be left to the generals. Or, as Sir Basil Henry Liddell Hart the British military historian and advisor during World War II described the military’s role: The art of distributing and applying military means to fulfill the ends of policy.

The question at this time surrounds SCAF’s assumption of policy-making powers. It’s a fine balance. On the one hand it can be fairly argued that SCAF is the only body empowered to guide the nation in the absence of a democratically elected president and parliament. On the other hand, SCAF should not set irrevocable red lines.

In1521 Niccolò Machiavelli, the Italian Renaissance political philosopher and historian addressed the issue. In his Dell’arte della Guerra (The Art of War) Machiavelli wrote that all society, religion, science, and art rested on the security provided by the military. He believed war was an extension of politics.

Egypt’s war is an ideological firmament. The left is challenging the right; youth asserts more liberal ideals than their parents. The different attitudes of Christians, Atheists and Islamists are blurred by distinctions among each denomination.

This is what democracy is about. SCAF has opened the doors to a debate that has been overdue for decades. The argument must include the military’s power within the country.

Expect the debate to be more raucous. So long as it remains a verbal clash, who should complain? Maybe they’ll get to the nub of the issue: the divergence between Europe, America and the Middle East during the Age of Enlightenment.

When the forces of reason fought the forces of ignorance in the 18th Century, when Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Immanuel Kant and Voltaire challenged people to have the courage to reason, Islamists declined to join in the debate. They were deeply suspicious, rightly so, of European colonialism, Euro-centrism and European guns.

The West and the Middle East have been cagey, cautious confederates ever since. Ironically the Arab technocrats in Egypt educated their elites abroad. They used the reasoning skills they learned to asphyxiate the masses.

Now the Middle East’s youth have challenged the status quo – a historic dare. They face the strangulating suture of arrogant oligarchs.

One of history’s moments recalls Sir Anthony Eden calling back Henry Liddell Hart after Hart had submitted his fifth plan to address what Britain calls the Suez Crisis in 1956.

According to the British historian Leonard Mosley the British prime minister liked this plan. Eden said: Captain Liddell Hart, here I am at a critical moment in Britain’s history, arranging matters, which might mean the life of the British Empire. And what happens? I ask you to do a simple military chore for me and it takes you five attempts – plus my vigilance amid all my worries – before you get it right.

Hart replied: But sir, it hasn’t taken five attempts. That version, which you now say is just what you wanted, is the original version.

There was silence. The prime minister’s face reddened. Then he reached for an antique inkstand and threw it at Hart. Hart sat still for a moment and then, with a tactician’s instinct for the devastating counterstrike, stood up, seized a wastepaper basket, and jammed it over Eden’s head.

Egypt’s contrariety should be restricted to such pranks.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo-based commentator.

Finger-lickin’ fix

International Herald Tribune Egypt Daily News

July 25 2011

Philip Whitfield

CAIRO: Imagine you’re President of Kentucky Fried Chicken on January 25. You pick up the phone and call the manager in Tahrir Square. What would you tell him? Close the store with a melee on your doorstep? Open the backdoor for more millions of munchies? Or, hang the consequences give everyone a free chicken nibble?

No doubt Roger Eaton would examine the issue from a myriad of options and consequences: First from his customers’ perspective. Then take into account the company’s corporate stance. And consider the shareholders viewpoint.

Then he would make his decision based on his mastery of reasoning skills. Thrust into the global spotlight, with KFC Tahrir Square on TV 24/7 to 800 million viewers, he’d rely on the company’s mission.

Yum! Brands, the parent company (KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut) strives to be the defining global company that feeds the world. To do that their mission is to build: 1) A culture where everyone counts; 2) Vibrant brands that become part of the community and 3) A huge heart that opens up all kinds of opportunities.

It’s a pity the sitters-in outside KFC don’t have such clear strategies to: 1) Strip the military of its power; 2) Refer trials to civilian courts and 3) Influence the prime minister.

Their action plan to march on Mugamma, the Defense Ministry, the Parliament and other official buildings is questionable. It invites confrontation where none is necessary. Whatever their intent, wherever in the world, when crowds descend on government buildings they can expect to be tear gassed.

If such a crowd doesn’t disperse, the militia will up the ante. It makes headlines. But is it effective? It throws a question mark over the motives of the protesters. Is throwing yourself in front of a platoon of soldiers worthwhile?

What happened in January and February was justified. To endlessly repeat the tactics is poor judgment.

Instead, they should consider a winning end-game strategy: Forge a political coalition that wins power in the parliament and for the office of president. Diversity is their strength. Divisiveness is their weakness.

When a little-known black politician set off from Chicago on the road to the White House few gave him much of a chance. When Barak Obama needed their votes, opponents bound together to ensure his clear victory: Soccer Mums, Hilary Clinton, soldiers and city slickers. Racism was dealt a triumphant blow.

The same is true of Angela Merkel and David Cameron. Mrs. Merkel formed a coalition from the Christian Socialist Union and the Free Democratic Party, sworn into government on October 28. Six months later Cameron formed the first coalition government with the Liberal Democrats since World War II.

Without their understanding of the politics of the possible both would have been swept into the wastelands of political obscurity.

Dubious naysayers are endangering Tahrir’s glorious branding of freedom, democracy and justice. Instead of declaring what they’re against the Tahrir squatters should look around for partners they can live with.

With more than 50 percent of the country under 30, a Grand Youth Coalition should sweep into power.

Of course it won’t happen.


Do not weep; do not wax indignant. Understand, said the Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza, a lens grinder whose philosophical accomplishments and moral character prompted 20th century French philosopher Gilles Deleuze to name him the prince of philosophers.

According to Spinoza in Ethica ordine geometrico demonstrata (Ethics demonstrated in geometrical order) the will and the intellect are modes of thought. The will is the same as the intellect.

His belief that all ideas come from Nature would go down well in the current turmoil. Spinoza wrote in Ethics: The more active the mind is, the more it’s able to avoid evil emotions. The more passive the mind is, the more it accepts emotions that are evil.

Applied to the Tahrir Square sitters-in, Spinoza reasoning suggests they should be focusing on a logical outcome for the Revolution, not a repetitious declaration of biases.

In today’s parlance, we do get it. We do understand their grievances. Many agree. But blocking the center of the nation’s capital isn’t a winning strategy. The very threat of returning to Tahrir Square in the hundreds of thousands is enough to exert their influence.

More impressive would be the diversion of their energies to explore the minutiae of their differences. Then with fellow opposition groups they can pound out compromises and find charismatic leaders to go out and win the votes.

If they’re prepared to accept power’s responsibility, they’ll need all the reasoning skills they can muster to make the post-revolution era momentous.

Tahrir Square isn’t a summer break. For years to come it will symbolize the aspirations of fettered people – more precious than drawn out sit-ins.

The KFC allegory shows that vision, mission and strategy trump intuition. The Tahrir Square branch was closed after some extremists suggested KFC symbolized a bucket of Western prejudice.

KFC didn’t chicken out. They bided their time until they reckoned they’d be welcome to continue their mission.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo-based commentator.



Storms ahoy as the tide turns

International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

July 22 2011

Philip Whitfield

ALEXANDRIA: Casting their long rods, lines and bait into the Mediterranean, fisher folk are taking advantage of the season’s neap tides. Gentle waves lap the rocks and the sea wall along the Corniche.

The snapper and sea bass are plentiful, enough for dinner and more. One says it may be his last fishing season. Omens threaten.

The political future will not be decided in Tahrir Square, much as the Cairo protesters wish. Cairo accounts for less than a quarter of the electorate. The nation as a whole will make the decisions that will determine the outcome of the revolution.

Being the loudest voice affects the media, says one informed political observer. The squeaky wheel gets attention, but eventually becomes an annoyance.

Only four out of ten eligible voters took up the opportunity to vote in the referendum. Cairo’s liberally inclined voters were relatively evenly balanced between holding the referendum sooner than later (59 percent).

Alexandria was one of the most inclined cities for an early vote (67 percent) and the rural areas were 90 percent in favor.

The higher the vote in favor, say political analysts, is an indicator of greater support for the Muslim Brotherhood.

Putting off the election until the end of the year is a compromise that gives new parties time to gel.

It’s understandable for the middle class to be adrift. No political party or leader has emerged with centrist, conservative economic policies to their taste. That is certain to change, they say here.

While Cairo boils, Marina and the North Coast broil. Conversation has turned to politics. The search is beginning for a moderate leader to reflect their concerns, which focus on security, stability and an end to corruption.

More than anything they are skeptical that the election when it comes will be a fair reflection of their wishes. They suspect the result will be manipulated in the count.

Many see their businesses in tatters. Some say they will not be able to continue with the private education they have paid for.

They fear the consequences of their kids and grandchildren being exposed to what they describe as the tyranny of state schools. That is a real issue for us in 2012, a couple says.

Moreover, they fear the backlash on their civic standing. We’ve worked hard, paid our taxes; we have never been on the wrong side of the law, they say. We have brought our children up to respect Islam, but also to respect people of all religions.

They tell a story. Their grandmother lived in a three-flat building in Alexandria. The apartments were spacious – 2,000 sqm. On the ground floor the family was Jewish. On the middle floor they were Christian and on the top floor a Muslim family lived in harmony with their neighbors.

When the daughter of the Muslim family approached her wedding, to be held on the roof, the Jewish family said they would provide the cake, a traditional Jewish dessert. As they gathered to bake the cake, the oven exploded, seriously wounding the Jewish grandmother.

Please say nothing to the bride, they pleaded. She has grown up as a daughter to us. She must not know what has happened. We will make the cake elsewhere. The Christian family agreed and they helped provide the festive fare.

The wedding took place. The badly injured Jewish grandmother died in hospital just after the wedding took place. The bride was kept in ignorance.

When she learned of the circumstances, she put off her honeymoon and went to the funeral.

They told me this happened some years ago. Over the years we have seen society change. Communities have polarized. It is not possible to be seen to be fraternizing with people of different faiths, they said.

Here there is more concern than is expressed in Cairo about the likely outcome of the elections. The Muslim Brotherhood is strong, well organized and disciplined. The Islamist Salafi is becoming more visible.

We’d never heard of the Salafi until January, a long-time resident of Alexandria says. The youth are disorganized and this week they’ve been in a good-humored mood.

You can spot the Brothers straightaway, he says. When the Brothers arrive their leaders keep them in line. It seems they have a mission and a plan.

How so?

For decades they have been providing schooling and social services for the poor, which amount to almost 50 percent of the people. They hand out food and when people have no money they give them as much as 100 Egyptian pounds.

Now it’s payback time. The poor expect to be asked to vote for the Brotherhood and they will.

What impact will that have?

The Brotherhood will win a large number of seats in the People’s Assembly. De facto they will be the governing party when they sew up alliances in parliament.

What is the middle class doing?

There isn’t a party that appeals to them as yet. Also they are victims of their affluence. They drive to work, do their jobs and drive home. Since the revolution they haven’t been going out much. They are confined to associating with their families and a few friends.

In Alex, they don’t dare to be seen protesting and joining demonstrations. They fear gangs following them home and attacking them, they said.

The overriding consideration in planning the elections is to prevent a fraudulent result. That’s why it is imperative to allow independent observers to monitor both the polling and the counting of votes. An expert in these matters from Sweden says there’s now time to make these arrangements.

Egypt should swallow its pride. It is more important for the parliamentary election and the presidential contest for the voting procedures to be given a clean bill of health. Otherwise the aggrieved parties have carte blanche to brand them fraudulent and to take to the streets.

In that event the military will retain power.


Khaled Said: Justice and dignity

International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

July 18, 2011

Philip Whitfield

ALEXANDRIA: The scene of the crime is surprisingly unassuming. Hassan Messbah and his assistant Ahmed Nasr are calm, reflective and unwavering as third-party observers to the killing that took place in the SpaceNet Internet Café just over a year ago.

We go through the motions that led to the death of Khaled Said. We stand on the spot where Mr. Said was talking to a friend at 10.00 pm with his back to the open doorway, his hoodie pulled up over his head.

Two cops came up behind him. One put an arm lock on his neck and pushed him into the wall. Mr. Messbah had a bird’s eye view. He was at his desk, nine steps up, about 15 meters from the attack.

Mr. Messbah rushed over and pushed the three of them towards the door. He says one of the cops slammed Mr. Said into the wall. There is a marble shelf, about half a meter wide along the length of the wall.

Mr. Messbah watched one of the cops smash Khaled Said’s head on to the marble over and over again. Unconscious, he was dragged into the street and into the entrance of the next-door building where the cops pummeled him, mainly to the head.

Mr. Said was dead. A doctor passing by tried to stop the beating. Mr. Said’s body was pushed into a police car and lay there for 10 minutes. More cops arrived. A crowd gathered.

Eventually an ambulance arrived and Mr. Said’s body was taken away.

What is important about this evidence is that it affirms Mr. Said was not trying to resist arrest. He was never given a chance. He was standing with his back to the entranceway. Arm locked he offered no resistance.

What has emerged is that the two policemen were not the usual cops who patrol this part of the Cleopatra district of Alexandria. None of the locals recognized them. The prosecution has not explained to their satisfaction why they were sent to the SpaceNet café.

Local people say an informer paid by the police singled out Mr. Said so as to pick up a few pounds. They say Mr. Said was not a drug dealer or user. They say the police filled his mouth with a plastic bag of ‘bango’ during their attack on him.

Why? We don’t know.

What we do know is that Khaled Said’s death, the pictures of him before and after the attack, the public outrage and its proliferation on Facebook, galvanized a movement which mushroomed into a national call for Mubarak and his thugs to be purged.

Neighbors say Khaled Said’s family, his mother and sister in Cleopatra and his two brothers who live in America, are not angry. However, they want justice. They will not rest until the two cops are tried for murder.

Their case is that there was premeditation to the manslaughter. Why, when they entered the SpaceNet Internet Café, did they not call out Mr. Said’s name, introduce themselves as police officers and tell him he was being arrested?

Even if he tried to run, he could not have escaped. Two against one, with one cop firmly gripping Mr. Said’s neck, were sufficient to make a normal arrest.

Last week the head of the police force in Alexandria was replaced. The new man can change the course of the investigation and can influence what will happen in the next few months in Egypt.

Khaled Said exemplifies the issues that are influencing the political debate. There is growing incredulity that people being held in custody for alleged crimes and violations of the Emergency Law are not being tried in open civilian courts.

In Cleopatra people say their faith in the army is being tested beyond reasonable limits. At this point they feel the army will be needed for a couple of years to be the mainstay of security in the country.

What they want now is for the military to give up its all-purpose power to arrest, try and convict alleged offenders.

Politically they are undecided. The Muslim Brotherhood has not been particularly active in their area. Neither has any other party.

Secondly, they are unimpressed by the candidates that have announced their intention to run for the presidency. None has captured their imagination. None has offered a program that reflects the intensity of their desire for change.

Yes, we need jobs. Yes we need access to better schools and hospitals. And yes we want government services to be free of bribes and favoritism, they say.

But first we want justice, they say. Without that the revolution fails.

These are not the demands of pundits in Cairo TV studios. They are the voices on the streets of Alexandria. Their demands are similar to the ones voiced in Cairo. But they are less insistent on higher pay and living standards.

One woman explained. A university graduate, an impressive young woman who works seven days a week as a customer relations specialist, says she has only recently found a position where she is not being sexually harassed.

In her former jobs, her bosses cozied up to her and made their intentions abundantly clear. One would call me and say I was needed back in the office when I knew nobody else would be there, she says. I had to make excuses, such as saying I was out of town.

The new Egypt she wants gives full respect to women. That, she says will define the ethos of the revolution.

She, along with many here, will cast their votes later this year for those who declare their sympathy for a charter that affirms the rights of all people, no matter which religious group they come from, nor their leanings left or right on economics.

That is the justice they demand.
Philip Whitfield is a Cairo-based writer. He can be reached at or twittered @mohendessin.

Hang together or hang them

International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

July 12 2011

Philip Whitfield

CAIRO: Opposites are attracted to Tahrir Square: Those who believe in reconciliation and those who advocate revenge.

Some want to draw a distinction in their lives under a barbaric regime and a new life centered on virtue.

Others want to settle the score by hanging. They want the perpetrators of the gross evil inflicted on society to be exterminated.

Al Jazeera’s Ayman Mohyeldin tweeted: Chants from Tahrir. ‘Execution awaits you Mubarak. Interior ministry still thugs, people want country cleansed.’

The Soviet writer Alexandr Solzhenitsyn who spent much of his life incarcerated for advocating liberty addressed the issue from an icy Siberian gulag: If only evil people insidiously committing evil deeds could be separated from the rest of us?

But, he regretted, the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. ‘It is, after all, only because of the way things work out that they are the executioners and we aren’t.’

The British Anglo-Irish 18th Century parliamentarian Edmund Burke put it thus: All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

Doing nothing to topple Mubarak was tantamount to complicity.

The Egyptian Revolution’s moral force — the righting of a wrong — was accomplished by the unequivocal riddance of an unscrupulous authoritarian and his cohorts.
To deploy violence to finish off the culprits is as ethically unsound as the perpetrators’ criminality. It sets the new era on a course that accepts violence as a way to achieve ends, which is precisely what the revolution aimed to stop

There is a secondary yet more salient reason for renouncing violence — the affect on children. Out of the womb, environment influences the brain mostly. Babes that are nurtured tend towards loving. Surrounded by violence, their gentle identity gradually diminishes.

Friday’s demonstrations in Tahrir, Suez and Alexandria appear to have been a triumph for the reconciliators. The police also took the hint and stayed on the sidelines.

In Through the Looking-Glass the White Queen offers to hire Alice as her lady’s maid and to pay her two pence a week, and jam every other day.

Alice says that she doesn’t want any jam today, and the Queen tells her: You couldn’t have it if you did want it. The rule is jam tomorrow and jam yesterday — but never jam today.

That’s what this protest is about. Nadia El-Awady tweets from Tahrir’s 37oC heat: Down with the military. Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has not met the revolution’s expectation.

Day by day the military and the interim government promises jam tomorrow allowing another jam-less day to pass. No wonder the people are skeptical.

On the night of June 28/29, security forces fired tear gas at 5,000 protesters. Clouds of tear gas engulfed Tahrir Square as the security forces battled to gain control of the square leaving 1,114 injured, according to the Ministry of Health.

An official fact finding committee found that thugs premeditated the clashes.

The police’s reversion to its old ways is probably the most uniting aspect of recent times. After that show of brutality at least 30 political parties and movements decided to participate in Friday’s protests.

But here’s another dilemma. Pitting the people against the army is a surefire losing strategy for all concerned. The military will prevail simply because they have more than 1.5 million armed, uniformed men under their command and will always justify their actions as maintaining security.

A win-win would be for the demonstrators to continue to exercise their ability to protest peacefully. That means controlling the thugs.

The military should round up the perps in their ranks and charge them, announcing that the prosecution files will be handed over to the prosecutor general for trials in regular courts.

That’s one way out of the impasse.

An African proverb sums it up: When spiders’ webs unite, they can catch lions. The lion is Liberty.

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

Tahrir: Bamboozling the bride

International Herald Tribune Cairo Daily News

July 7 2011

Philip Whitfield

‘Thus grief still treads upon the heels of pleasure: Married in haste, we may repent at leisure.’ That was William Congreve in his comedy of manners The Old Batchelour, 1693.  It’s probably sacrilege to bring it up, but let’s explore the issue as it relates to what is now called the Arab Awakening.

It takes nothing from the earth-shattering 18 days that solidified Egypt’s national mood to bring about the downfall of a scoundrel and his apparatchiks.  Rather it may explain the division in society that has followed.

Best to begin at the beginning. The Ancients were possessed with discussion about friendship, which they said was the essential of a good society. Aristotle divided friendships into three: utility, pleasure or goodness.

Later Plato, Socrates and Epicurus were to ask what the relationship was between friendship and power, jealousy and exploitation.

These issues lurk in the shadows of Egypt’s post-revolutionary malaise. The coming together in Tahrir Square and elsewhere of people from diverse backgrounds was a July 4th moment as Americans experience it. Even KFC was there.

Just as everyone’s Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day or lovers on Valentine’s, the world celebrated being ‘Egyptian’ during those momentous days in Tahrir Square – the expression of a universal desire to give the ruling classes its comeuppance.

Summed up, the world felt as journalist, lawyer and nationalist activist Mustafa Kamil (1874-1908) felt: If I weren’t an Egyptian, I would have wished to be an Egyptian. His words struck such a chord that the current Egyptian national anthem (Bilady) is believed to have been inspired by his speech.

What’s gone wrong? Why are we seeing tawdry images of street vendors clashing with protesters – tents and tires on fire on a roundabout where people of all faiths joined as one to revere creation?

The philosophers offered the explanation that like being attracted to like was an important though not essential ingredient of friendship and probably was doomed in rivalry. They looked at the notion of opposites attracting. But they considered it impossible for the just and unjust to be friends.

The debate raged. They concluded that good was attracted to good because each was enjoying each other’s goodness.

Aristotle stuck with the issue and came up with the definition of friends as people who shared goodwill towards each other. People working in jobs together exemplified utility friendships. Pleasure friendships were people playing football.

The problem with these two kinds of friendships is their reliance on an outside source: work or football, which if it goes away generally leaves the friendship bereft.

Aristotle said the third friendship is based on love of someone for whom they are, which Aristotle called character or virtuous friendships that will last.

Furthermore, the Roman philosopher Cicero said these friendships endured because the fruit of their friendship was a parity of concerns, concluding that the best friendships were between good people who reflected each other’s goodness.

The danger in tomorrow’s mass gathering in Tahrir Square is that these gatherings are tending towards threatening. Your neighbor in the square might turn on you. Gangs hang in the side streets.

On their minds is the extraordinary scene in court on Tuesday when three former ministers were acquitted of corruption. Relatives and friends cheered: Long live justice.

One of the defendants’ lawyers said: The verdicts fall under the legitimacy of the justice system and not the legitimacy of the revolution.

I think he’s missing the point. The revolution is all about overhauling the partisan, blatantly flawed system of justice and replacing it with justice that has the people’s respect.

Letting fat cats off scot-free isn’t justice. It’s the legacy of corruption that has pervaded the Middle East since the year dot.

A foretaste of tomorrow came from Adel Soliman, head of the International Centre for Future and Strategic Studies. Soliman said: The message for Friday is that revolutionary sentiment in Egypt has not yet calmed, that the revolution’s demands have not been met and that it insists on seeing them met.

Egypt’s new era began in a heady euphoria, justifiable, understandable and worthy of pride regaining dignity, self-respect and independence.

The incessant demands for individual gratification are degrading. Quarrelling over who comes out ahead is baleful. People are becoming increasingly cantankerous.

Where is the friendship that was so uplifting when Tahrir Square celebrated the revolution? How can the spirit of the Arab Awakening be rekindled?

As each week passes, no leader emerges calling for an all-Egyptian solution. Once- unified political parties have splintered – a plethora packed with poseurs. Religious differences have emerged as critical factors.

If one faction feels abused, rather that discuss their grievances, they descend on the other with stones and more deadly weaponry.

Isn’t there anyone out there with the courage to offer the hand of friendship to bridge these divides with healing balm?

Are we witnessing a shotgun marriage, conveniently satisfying an urge, but grounded on self-interest that forsakes mutual respect?

The Tahrir bride deserves blessing not hornswoggling – deceitful bamboozling.

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