More war or jaw-jaw?

International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

Philip Whitfield

August 29 2011

CAIRO: Is Libya murderous mayhem or a just war? Is mass death justified? When do the ends violate the moral principles of the means? What are the consequences for Egypt of turmoil on its borders?

Largely peaceful non-violent protests characterized transition in Tunisia and Egypt. That’s not the case in Libya, Syria, Yemen or Bahrain.

History will record the triumph of non-violent protest over armed insurrection in Tunisia and Egypt. Not to diminish their importance or minify their bestiality, the cold-blooded murder of detainees will be overshadowed by the significance of popular uprising unseating tyrannical regimes.

Egypt’s revolutionaries faced two choices to upend Mubarak: to violently confront the pillars that propped the dictator up or to destabilize the regime with non-violent action, the chosen course.

Non-violence is relatively new, historically. Peter Ackerman views democracy from influential positions on the boards of the US-based International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, Freedom House and the Council on Foreign Relations. He told an audience last November that until 35 years ago you were either quiescent or took part in violent insurrection.

Citing more than 200 violent insurrections since 1900 he said the success rate was 23 percent. “In almost every case when there’d been a victory the people who undertook the insurrection said: We took all the risk and so we take all the power.”

It never ended up in a democratic result, he said. When they failed, which was virtually in every case, the people who suffered were the general population.

Another influential voice is Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. In March, assessing the prospects for democratic change in the Arab world, he said: I wouldn’t take anything for granted.

Diamond cautioned that a transition from authoritarian rule to democratic governance in the Middle East would be tricky. “Getting the timing right, getting the sequence right, getting the institutions right, getting the politics right, is fundamentally important, even essential, to having a successful democratic transition.”

Diamond said uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and other Arab nations represented the latest wave of democracy movements that have reshaped the world. In 1974, there were about 40 democratic countries. Another 76 became democracies over the past 35 years. Of the world’s 194 nations, 116 are democracies today.

He identified several pre-conditions that increase the likelihood of successful democratic change. It helps if a country is reasonably economically developed and literate and if there is a business or entrepreneurial class, he said. Also important are exposure to democratic culture and ideas, particularly pluralism and tolerance.

Diamond noted that since the American Revolution in 1776 there have been few democracies established from violent revolutions. Usually, the charismatic figure that leads a revolutionary struggle through violent means winds up like Lenin or Mao, not like George Washington or Nelson Mandela.

Among Arab countries Tunisia had long been regarded as the most able to develop and sustain democracy, Diamond said. With an established middle class, Tunisia was less polarized and radicalized than many other Arab nations.

“I am much more optimistic about Tunisia than Egypt,” said Diamond who was “very skeptical” about democratic prospects in Egypt. He was “deeply suspicious” about the military council that took over as the transitional government. “It’s not like the military was allied with the Mubarak regime. The military was the previous Mubarak regime.” The Egyptian military, Diamond said, is “not above playing the same game Hosni Mubarak played” to thwart democracy.

Egypt’s electoral system also needs reform. According to Diamond: Unless the electoral system is reformed basically, you will get an electoral outcome dominated by the old ruling party with a new name — and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Aristotle, Cicero and Augustine are regarded as the founders of just war theory. Many of the rules developed by the just war tradition have since been codified into contemporary international laws governing armed conflict, such as The United Nations Charter and The Hague and Geneva Conventions.

Just war theory, which covers civil war, falls into three parts: 1. jus ad bellum: the justice of resorting to war in the first place. 2. jus in bello, which concerns the justice of conduct of war. 3. jus post bellum: the justice of peace and the termination of war.

In the first place, governments lose their legitimacy to govern if they fail to make every reasonable effort to satisfy the human rights of their own citizens, notably life, liberty and subsistence. That’s debatable. However, if the uprising has overwhelming popular support the people win the argument.

What’s not arguable is the unjust conduct of a government in defense of what it sees as an illegitimate uprising. That is where Mubarak, Qaddafi, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh fail.

Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution says though Bahrain is a pygmy in Arab politics the Saudis watch Bahrain like hawks fearful of the Shia 70 percent majority overturning the ruling Sunni Muslims.

Riedel claims the Sunnis suppress the Shias with imported Pakistanis and other Sunnis to man the riot police to ensure their loyalty to the throne. Their brutal put down of Shia unrest, aided by Saudi tank commanders, qualifies the Bahrain rulers for international isolation.

Egypt’s dilemma is moral and pragmatic. The continued use of extreme force catalogued by protesters taken into detention, casts doubt on the militia’s credibility to act even-handedly in the new era. A judicial inquiry is required to determine the truth and to recommend reform to be enacted by the new parliament.

Immediate action to rout out bullies is required. Police training methods need overhauling. Community policing is the best way to gain trust. Retraining commanding officers who oversee police stations is essential.

Military posts along Egypt’s borders in the Sinai and adjacent to Libya will require manning for years to come. Egypt must avoid being drawn into firefights provoked by proponents of violence on its borders. The new Egypt will be provoked. The enemies of democracy wear many disguises.

Intelligence will be critical. Egypt will need to partner with neighboring security forces.

To move forward means tapping the reservoir of diplomatic skills and drawing on the goodwill engendered during the revolution.

To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war, Sir Winston Churchill said at a White House luncheon on June 26 1954. Would that his words had not fallen on deaf ears.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo-based commentator.


The first casualty of war: men

International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

August 26 2011

Philip Whitfield

CAIRO: The first casualty of war is truth, US Senator Hiram Johnson reflected as America entered World War I. The casualty of the Arab Spring is media male chauvinism, the victory of women war correspondents over their male colleagues.

Embarrassment engulfed newsrooms around the world as Sky News’s Alex Crawford reported the Libyan rebels takeover of Green Square and renamed it Martyrs’ Square.

She gobsmacked the global media monoliths, BBC, NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, Reuters and AP who were reporting Muammar Gaddafi’s forces were still in control.

Her gripping 45-minute live report is the crowning glory of women reporters covering events in the Middle East. No fear, no reticence to jump into pick-up trucks in the vanguard of the conquering heroes.

Alex Crawford emulated the courage of the women reporters who brought the inflamed atmosphere of Tahrir Square to the firesides of the world.

What’s more, the next day as BBC was reporting fierce fighting raging on in Gaddafi’s compound, Crawford reported on Sky News live from the compound itself that it had been overrun by rebels.

Her scoops were the subject of a tetchy debate on the BBC’s own Media Show on Wednesday. The presenter asked what had gone so right for Sky and so wrong for the BBC? Jon Williams BBC’s world news editor and Sky’s head of international news Sarah Whitehead explained.

Whitehead said Alex Crawford had been in Zawia some months ago and gained the people’s trust. When she returned last week her contacts told her the rebels had formed a very large convoy to take Tripoli and she could join them.

Her team had a rudimentary satellite dish and a compass. The decision to go was Crawford’s assessment of the risk. Her media competitors decided the risks were too great.

Williams, who said he took his hat off to Crawford for her “compelling, extraordinary reporting” explained the BBC’s misfortune was that the BBC’s Matthew Price was locked up with 30 others in the Rixos Hotel and backups were on their way.

As to the final push into Tripoli, Williams said Alex made a judgment it was safe to leave Zawia on the convoy. The BBC made a judgment it was not safe.
The presenter said he’d been told a senior BBC executive said the BBC was creamed on television that night.

An interesting defense by the BBC’s Williams was that as Alex Crawford’s piece was going out 142,000 people were watching Sky News, 243,000 people were watching the BBC News Channel and Rupert Wingfield-Hayes was cutting a piece to go out on the 10 O’clock news that would reach 5 million viewers.

But that wasn’t the right piece, the presenter said. Sky had the story. William said if Alex Crawford wins all the prizes he would be the first to raise a glass and congratulate her.

The BBC is said to be the world’s largest broadcasting organization, excepting China’s. The BBC’s £4.26 billion funding is mainly through a license fee on UK households of £145.50 for color and £49.00 for black and white TV sets. BSkyB funds its £5.9 billion operation, as any company does raising its revenues from investors, of which Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp owns 39 percent.

The Vietnam War marked the rise in women covering wars. Upwards of 300 women were accredited to cover the war in the decade between 1965 and 1975. Of those 300, a total of about 70 women were identifiable as correspondents by their published or broadcast reports about the war.

Women went to great lengths to get to Saigon. They acquired letters from organizations as traditional as the North American Newspaper Alliance, as diverse as Mademoiselle and True Adventure, or as obscure as the Lithuanian Daily Worker.

Alex Crawford isn’t alone atop the stack of women journalists who are playing such a pivotal role bringing us the news from the Middle East. Al-Jazeera’s staff comprises women of extraordinary caliber.

In print journalism women are critical to presenting the news accurately and fairly. In a newsroom, bravery is often expressed by the choice of stories to be covered, intricate editing of the copy to ensure balance and fairness and headline writing that is entertaining, but not over the top.

There are lessons to be learned from the current coverage. It’s clear the media in Egypt needs overhauling. One of the suggestions aired in the state’s television and radio corridors of power is to model itself on the BBC, whose governance is independent of British government interference through the delegation of policy to an independent trust.

Yet the BBC is dependent on the British parliament voting its revenues through the license fee. If Egypt’s national broadcaster were to continue to receive funding from the government, who could claim it was truly independent?

The same goes for newspapers and magazines. Does the public believe the newspapers that are funded by political sources — the government, political parties and partisan business people — are telling all the truth? I doubt it.

Secondly, the staff of all media organizations should pay respect to the contributions of women. When I set off on a journey in journalism, women were tolerated in newsrooms. They were assigned cookery notes, fashion pieces and the odd spot doing an occasional theater review.

Nowadays that’s not the case. But more needs to be done to elevate women into the top posts, including regulatory bodies.

Which brings up another issue post revolution. How should the media be regulated? There needs to be a body that can be consulted if issues of national security are at stake. Every country, so far as I know, has a process of consultation between editors and defense officials to protect its intelligence secrets.

Egypt’s laws in this regard are draconian and do not reflect the new mood. They should be reviewed by the new parliament.

Among the most-celebrated correspondents of the 20th century was Martha Gellhorn, who became Ernest Hemingway’s third wife. She covered the Spanish Civil War and reported the rise of Adolph Hitler, later reporting World War II from Finland, Hong Kong, Burma, Singapore and Britain.

Lacking official press credentials to witness the D- Day landings, she impersonated a stretcher-bearer to recall: I followed the war wherever I could reach it. She was among the first journalists to report from the Dachau concentration camp after it was liberated.

So contentious was Gellhorn’s professional rivalry with Hemingway, he wrote: Are you a war correspondent, or wife in my bed? If alive, what would the great man say now.

Philip Whitfield, a former BBC correspondent, is a Cairo-based commentator.

For whom the bell tolls

International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

Philip Whitfield

No man is an island, wrote the English poet John Donne (1572 – 1631). Entire of itself, every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main.

Nothing brings home Donne’s wisdom more than the killing in Eilat last Thursday and the consequences.

The gunmen who initiated the attacks allegedly crossed from Egypt into Israel near the Ein Netafim water spring, the border between the British and Ottoman empires.

Eight Israelis were killed and more than a dozen injured when, according to Israeli spokesmen, affiliates of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) in Gaza wearing military vests and armed with assault rifles, RPGs, roadside bombs and bomb belts, crossed into Israel. Eyewitnesses to the initial attack said the perpetrators wore what looked like Egyptian police uniforms.

Israel Border Police on one side of Highway 12 and the Egyptian army on the other bear joint responsibility for security along the border. About 20 percent of the 6,000-strong Border Police are in Jerusalem. The rest serve in the countryside, Arab townships and rural areas. They include professional soldiers and some volunteers.

There are four special units: Yaman formed for counter-terror and hostage rescue; Yamas for counter-terror undercover work; Yamag for tactical counter-crime and counter-terror rapid deployment and Matilan for intelligence gathering and infiltrations interception.

One of those killed was “The Fox” Yaman’s French-born top gun, 49-year-old Chief Warrant Officer Pascal Avrahami an immigrant since 1977 who lived with his wife and three kids in Jerusalem. Avrahami flew to the scene in a helicopter. He shimmied through the rear window of one of the buses at the scene and was cut down in a firefight.

It is an egregious mistake to pin the blame on Egypt for this attack. By its own admission, Israel had intelligence the attack would take place and they had anti-terror units in the vicinity. The officer commanding Israel’s southern region Major General Tal Russo said that security forces had been on high alert for terror attacks coming from Sinai to Israel.

A senior officer in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said Israel’s security agency the Shin Bet had obtained intelligence about the attack several days earlier. For that reason the Yaman as well as additional IDF units were already deployed along the border nearby the attack.

The IDF spokesman confirmed that Egypt played its part in the mopping-up operation, killing two of the attackers.

General Sami Enan, Egypt’s army chief of staff and second in command on the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) is investigating the deaths of five Egyptian militia on the border after the attacks. A military official told the official MENA news agency on Thursday night they were accidentally killed by Israeli helicopter fire aimed at fleeing militants.

But on Friday, Al-Ahram newspaper quoted a military official as saying the Egyptian policemen were killed by gunmen trying to slip in from Israel. Enan’s investigation was announced shortly after another policeman was declared dead after a border gunfight on Friday, which left one of his comrades gravely wounded with a bullet in the head.

I was a battlefield reporter in this part of the world before I covered the Vietnam War, the war in Angola and the first Gulf War. I’ve had my fair share of close shaves. A colleague was killed by a wire-guided missile in the car behind me in Quneitra being fought over in 1973. I’ve been strafed and knocked on the head with rifle butts a time or two.

The skirmishes are always complex to sort out when bullets are flying and you’re in the thick of it.

What is certain is that Eilat has put the Palestinian issue squarely on the plate of those Egyptian politicians who seek office in the new era.

To date, the elections are being contested on domestic issues. That is inexcusable. Historically the two issues that have dominated the Middle East for 60 years are the consequences of the exploding population and the status of Palestine. If these two don’t top the list of presidential candidates’ priorities, they aren’t worth supporting.

On the first, it is imperative that candidates produce coherent plans to provide affordable food, free healthcare, free education and proper jobs for young people. They shouldn’t be allowed to procrastinate or be ambiguous. Voters need to know their plans, the cost and the timeline.

Resolving the Palestine dilemma is as tortuous. First, Egypt must decide the role it should play. There are several options, among which are: Egypt could invest political capital in negotiating direct with Israel to agree the terms of a final solution, which it could put to the Palestinians.

Egypt could continue to find the common ground that would end the fractious relationship that divides the Palestinians.

Egypt could close the Rafah crossing once and for all and leave the Palestinians in Gaza locked up. Or open it. Whatever is decided, the policy of Egypt towards Israel/Palestine should be part of the political debate before the elections.

That includes border security. It’s clear the restrictions imposed by Israel as part of the Camp David accords regulating the number of forces Egypt may deploy in the Sinai are insufficient.

Emad Gad, an analyst at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies asked on August 12: How did 3,000 armed fundamentalists enter Egypt, some of whom are members of Al-Qaeda, arriving fresh from fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

At the time Gad was referring to the attack on a police station in al-Arish “by an extremist fundamentalist group who follow al-Qaeda’s ideology.” He made the point that the information was provided by an official source and not censored out of the papers.

Gad wrote: Who is behind the return of these fighters and who gave them permission to enter? These are many questions that remain without clear or convincing answers in an era of political and security flux.

Who indeed? When John Donne wrote No Man is an Island, his meditation concluded:

Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in Mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls.
It tolls for thee.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo-based commentator.

All for 10 pounds life is cheap and costly

International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

August 18 2011

Philip Whitfield

CAIRO: The young man who was mutilated and crippled a few feet from me on Sunday wasn’t a martyr like Khaled Said or Mohamed Bouazizi who self immolated in Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia on December 17 or the two young men aged 15 and 20 killed during the Mahalla textile strike on April 6 2008; or the Syrian kid Hamza Ali al-Khateeb, 13, who was arrested in Dara’a on April 29 only to be mutilated and murdered by the police and shoved into a morgue a month later.

The youngster lying immobile in front of me was trying to earn 10 pounds on Lebanon Street, laboring for a firm building an office tower.

I was pegging socks on the line matching them in pairs on the washing line on the back balcony. The construction crew maneuvered one of those huge mechanical crawler cranes the men call Goliaths onto the lot they’ve been clearing and mixing cement for the foundations.

Like they do, eight men were watching two working. One was manipulating Goliath’s levers to ready the giant for action. Something required the young man to climb onto the boom that was about three meters horizontally off the ground.

The motor was stuttering and in an instant he was hurled, or hurled himself, to the ground, shaking and shuddering. Then he was lifeless.

Everyone gathered round. Two burly men picked him up and carried him unconscious to their car and cleared some tools off the back seat and lay him across the leather. Then they took off for the hospital.

He won’t work again, if he ever recovers.

Is he a martyr? I say yes. He was doing what was right: up early for work, volunteering to fix something that was needed on the job, willing to accept a pittance.

There are those who call Egypt’s revolt a youth-led Facebook Revolution. That’s only a part of the narrative. Workers are the soul of the revolt, the heart of a complexity of collaborative efforts by workers, academics, students; Egyptians in Egypt and Egyptians abroad.

Kids not begun shaving yet have been cut down by snipers. Little girls have had their knickers pulled down.

Women workers are pivotal in the revolution. It was 3,000 women garment workers who went on strike and marched into the company compound the Ghazl el-Mahalla textile mill demanding their male colleagues join their strike when the current cycle of labor unrest began in December 2006. They had been on about 35 Egyptian pounds a month since 1984. They were asking for a raise, food allowances and better safety conditions. The government had welched on the deal to up their annual bonus – the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The government met the strikers with tear gas and live ammunition, which cut down two young men, ages 15 and 20 and left them dead.

These basic rights being fought over to overturn an unjust labor system, tend to be forgotten in the political schmozzle  – until you’re confronted by the devastating consequences of a young man maimed for life on a building site. How many others will share his fate this week?

Egypt’s revolution bifurcates into two branches: Freedom – constitutional and political reform, and Justice: social and economic.

The freedom criers are heard above the justice demanders. They’re more articulate, PR-savvy and good-looking on TV. The justice advocates wear hard hats, have grit under their fingernails, aren’t as articulate as their counterparts and live a ways away near the big industrial centers such as Mahalla, 100 kilometers from Cairo.

But they heeded the call and came to Cairo to brave the Camel Charge, the Molotov cocktails raining down on their heads in Tahrir Square and they advanced into the live fire range and shooed off the frightened police on the bridges over the Nile.

Labor is a mailed fist in the velvet glove of the non-violence movement, there when mental and physical courage is needed to face up to armed oppressors.

They’re unwaveringly loyal to each other under fire. They are the reliable stalwarts, the men and women that form the backbone of a backbreaking industrial society.

Politically they span the gamut of parties gearing up for the elections: right, left and center; secular, religious and none; highly educated and illiterate.

For all that the government threw at them in the past 12 years more than two million workers participated in more than 3,000 collective actions, according to Professor Joel Beinin, the principal author of The Struggle for Worker Rights in Egypt.

In 2006 alone they organized 222 sit-in strikes, work stoppages, hunger strikes and demonstrations, in the first five months of 2007 a new labor action nearly every day. The citizen group Egyptian Workers and Trade Union Watch documented 56 incidents during the month of April, and another 15 during the first week of May alone. Benin described it as “the biggest, longest strike-wave at least since 1951…  the most substantial and broad-based kind of resistance to the regime.”

Beinin, the Donald J. McLachlan professor of history and professor of Middle East history at Stanford University says about 40 percent of all the collective actions in recent years have been in the private sector, which is a big change.

Industrial action forced the government to raise the basic monthly minimum wage to 400 Egyptian pounds – nearly four times what it had been before. The workers’ indefatigable stamina has encouraged others to get over the barrier of fear.

The tipping point that doomed Mubarak’s regime was the people’s defiance of a ban on entering Tahrir Square on January 28. At 2 pm 20,000 protestors broke through the blockades and took over the Qasr al-Nil Bridge. Two hours later the headquarters of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party was ablaze. The edifice supporting oppression was gutted.

More honorable monuments remain. The pyramids are perdurable tributes to the immortality of the dignity of labor.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo-based commentator

With love from Tottenham to Tahrir

International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

August 15 2011

Philip Whitfield

CAIRO: Top-of-the-pops ringtone is the Beatles’ From Me To You: If there’s anything that you want. If there’s anything I can do. Just call on me and I’ll send it along. With love from me to you.

I should declare my interest. I grew up with John Lennon. We’re both Ashlars – we went to Quarry Bank school in Liverpool. He’d dunk my sister at the swimming baths. Wet-haired we joshed past Strawberry Fields, me the youngest being shoved into privet hedges along the way to fish and finger pies.

We learned rock ‘n rolling gawking at bee-hived Daphne at St. Peter’s, met the impish Paul McCartney there one night, hopped the #4 bus to The Cavern and had our hair cut at Bioletti’s in Penny Lane.

My mate who was staying with me in Cairo recently had his Dad immortalized by Lennon… On the corner is a banker with a motorcar… The little children laugh at him behind his back. And the banker never wears a mac. In the pouring rain…Very strange.

If only nostalgia: could be canned.

‘There beneath the blue suburban skies’ a pall of black smoke hung over our teenage haunts when Liverpool joined in the loot-fest that started in Tottenham in north London after a Bobby killed a mobster’s kid.

The Tottenham riots are bemeaning. They pull the rug from under Britain’s pretention to being a model society for emerging democracies. They demolish faith in British policing, which shied away on the first night. The justice system set up night ‘n day blue night specials – quickie courts with lawyers who complained they were handed briefs without meeting clients who were frog-marched into the dock in Mubarak-style white jumpsuits. Habeas corpus 2.0? Or Habeas requiem.

Civil disobedience organized across social networks can be used for evil, destabilizing the smug. Sanguinary, resorting to violence, overwhelms the sanguine, the confidently optimistic. Tanned MPs on both sides of the House of Commons, recalled from their languid summer holidays sported enraged red faces. Prime Minister Cameron banged his fists on the dispatch box: We will hunt you down.

The minister responsible, Theresa May, uncommon for her, was hidden most of the time from the TV cameras. Nick Clegg, Cameron’s co-governor made it clear he wasn’t going to be a partner in crime. Before the General Election he’d forecast if Cameron pushes through swingeing spending cuts there’ll be riots in the streets.

Yet aren’t MPs the people who voted the cash for protection – the same Pecksniffian, unctuous Johnny-come-latelies who brought Britain to its parlous state?

Gene Sharp is the Clausewitz of nonviolence, a reclusive 83-year-old academic growing orchids in a house he paid $150 for outside Boston MA. His 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action was used by the April 6 Movement to plan their campaign in Egypt.

Underpinning Sharp are two imperatives. Tyrants overlord countries by exercising monolithic power over its institutions: political, economic, policing, schools, healthcare – Egypt’s Pharhaonic god culture.

Secondly it’s futile to confront head-on the pillars propping them up: If you don’t like violence, you have to develop a substitute to give people a choice. If they don’t see one, violence is all that’s left. Sharp’s followers include some who came to Cairo before the revolution got underway and stressed three stages would-be rebels should work through.

1. Unity: Bind together the widest possible section of society, all ethnic groups, all religious groups, and all economic strata around a limited set of achievable goals. Designate a leadership that has legitimacy to mobilize these groups in the service of its goal.

2. Continuous planning: Look objectively at your capabilities, how you can mobilize, what tactics are at your disposal, how to sequence those tactics in a way that has the biggest negative impact on the opponent where the cost is greatest to the opponent than it is to yourselves. That planning, the brewing revolutionaries were told, needs to go on at offensive and defensive levels. The defensive level means anticipating some things that are going to happen to you. For example some of the leadership may be killed or incapacitated. There needs to be planning for redundancy in leadership.

Then there are offensive tactics of non-violent – strikes, boycotts and mass protests.

3. Non-violent discipline: Non-violence is a strategic choice not a moral one. Civil resistance can’t succeed unless you induce loyalty shifts and ultimately defections from the other side that weaken the opponent’s power base.

They were warned it’s highly likely that the majority of the population will go indoors because not everybody is willing to take the same risks for a civil resistance movement. ‘The general population that you worked so hard to get involved is the group that’s most likely to take the least risk. Once violence is afoot they’ll go indoors. You’re also trying to create loyalty shifts which and it’s very hard to create loyalty shifts if you’re trying to kill or maim them.

Gathering sympathizers to support a cause goes back centuries. The Royalists’ counter offensive to the French Revolution in the Vendée Militaire took 45,000 republican troops to quell. Pitch battles raged from March until August in 1793 culminating in a scorched earth ‘pacification’. Some estimate half a million were killed; too many to count injured.

Unlike the Tottenham troglodytes the pro-democracy forces in Egypt used Facebook and Twitter to peaceful advantage to organize.

In Egypt a survey by Williams and Associates, for the International Republican Institute and reported in the Daily News Egypt found informal networks of friends and relatives were the most important means for initializing and sustaining Tahrir Square.

Word of mouth between family and friends was widely used by 72 percent of Egyptians to get information about the events of January 25. Twenty-eight percent used Mobile phones and 15 percent Facebook; Twitter by only one percent. Ninety-eight percent stayed in front of the TV.

Even if these numbers are skewed, there’s a warning bell ringing. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is the largest political party in the Middle East on the Internet. Not to decry their professionalism, the organization of voter participation this year should not be over influenced by one group’s expertise to marshal balloting on handhelds.

Even Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu is a bemused hawk held hostage by doves dialing. Facebook-mobilized peaceful protesters camped out on his doorstep are bejangling him protesting about everything under the sun.

John Lennon’s lyric is an apt ode.

Ev’rybody’s talkin’ ’bout
Bagism, Shagism, Dragism, Madism, Ragism, Tagism
This-ism, that-ism, ism ism ism.
All we are saying is give peace a chance.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo-based commentator.

The sword and shield of the state

International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

August 12 2001

Philip Whitfield

CAIRO: After the rebellion comes the reckoning. At its core, Egypt’s new society needs trust. Adversaries have to bury the hatchet and get on with one another. In practical terms that means respecting laws made to preserve democracy and appointing police that impartially maintain law and order.

Lawrence of Arabia helped hatch the plan to bring down the Ottoman Empire. Captain T.E. Lawrence concluded that two percent of activists can overcome 98 percent that are passively sympathetic.

The archaeologist turned soldier fought with Arab irregulars in guerrilla operations against the armed forces of the Ottoman Empire after being posted to the intelligence staff of the British General Officer Commanding the Middle East in Cairo.

Why look to the past when considering Egypt’s post revolutionary future?

Lt-Col Sir Julian Paget, an authority on counter insurgency argues: The actual insurgent element of the population is nearly always very small, less than 10 percent. But it succeeds in instilling such a fear into the majority of the people that the remaining 90 percent almost invariably side passively with the insurgent cause.

Egypt’s revolutionaries can defeat the Camel Charge and lose the war if they’re not prepared.

The counterinsurgents — holdovers from the Mubarak regime — are well prepared, given the mountain of information that has been uncovered in the sacking of the various police stations and intelligence operational centers.

It’s pretty clear they acquired sophisticated monitoring systems, such as malware and backdoors to infect computers to snoop on opponents.

The Washington Post reported activists uncovering a proposed contract from a British company amid the scattered papers and interrogation devices found during a raid on one police spy center.

Dr. Mustafa Hussein, a Cairo physician was among the activists who seized the documents, posted the proposal online. He said it is important evidence of the intent of the state security and investigation division not to respect privacy.

The proposal provided the interior ministry with software to access Gmail, Skype, Hotmail and Yahoo conversations and exchanges on computers.

According to The Guardian newspaper the proposal dated June 29, 2010 provided FinSpy software, hardware, installation and training to Egypt’s State Security Investigations service for 287,000 Euros.

Despite the paperwork discovered, both parties denied having anything to do with it.

One of the significant masterminds of global snooping in recent years is Dr. Kalev Sepp, Senior Lecturer in Defense Analysis at the US Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. Previously he served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations Capabilities responsible for the United States Department of Defense global counterterrorism portfolio.

Sepp had responsibility for policy oversight of all special operations worldwide, and formulation of the Defense Department’s global counterterrorism strategy from July 2007.

Sepp says intelligence operations that help detect terrorist insurgents for arrest and prosecution are the single most important practice to protect a population from threats to its security.

He goes on: Honest, trained, robust police forces responsible for security can gather intelligence at the community level. The local knowledge that members of a police force possess can help them distinguish between innocents and insurgents.

Snooping on the Arab blogosphere was deemed appropriate by the US State Department five years ago. Their Middle East Partnership set aside $1.5 million dollars for a two-year project to examine how the Internet influences democratic norms and modes.

Harvard University’s Berkman Center, where these surveys are conducted, has geared up to discover the Internet’s impact in the Middle East on civil society, citizen media, government transparency, and the rule of law.

Two of the core research groups are alumni from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, a private school that offers classes in human rights and espionage. A third is the head of a company that boasts: We take you far beyond “hits” or “page views,” uncovering who is listening to whom, why they are interested, and how ideas move among and between different audiences.

The fourth is the author of a book that reports on a new generation of Internet controls that establish a new normative terrain in which surveillance and censorship are routine.

The result of a jointly funded project by the Americans and the British was published on Friday. Bloggers in the Middle East and North Africa, experienced a remarkably high incidence of security incidents related to their online activity over the past year — 30 percent feared arrest and detention, nine percent had been arrested or detained, 18 percent feared personal threats and 18 percent said their computers had been hacked.

After accessing tens of thousands of Internet messages between 2005 and 2007 the group reported in Mapping the Arabic Blogosphere: Politics, Culture, and Dissent that the Muslim Brotherhood is the biggest single political group sharing its information.

Like other Egyptian political bloggers, ‘Brother bloggers’ talk about human rights and defend those who have been arrested by the government. They are also engaged in public debate about the organization’s future and priorities.

What’s needed now is truth and transparency. If Egypt is to be policed by cyber-hackers and specialists in controlling computers, the nation is doomed to suspicion. The law needs amending. Civil judges should determine the right to access e-mail, text messages and phone conversations. They know the boundaries that are acceptable.

When the police suspect that a crime is being concocted, they should present their evidence to a judge in Camera and seek approval for covert activities. That’s the way to begin restoring confidence.

There’s another imperative: the retraining of police on the ground. The riot police outside the Mubarak trial demonstrated their inadequacy. As they seem to do whenever they’re in a tight spot they ended up bashing people over the head and throwing the rocks back.

Instead of allocating millions of dollars for eavesdropping, governments that wish to support Egypt’s democrats should turn their attention to helping the police to reform and in doing so to gain the trust the nation craves.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo-based commentator.


Doublespeak, duplicity and diplomacy

International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

August 9 2011

Philip Whitfield

CAIRO: Before getting ahead of ourselves, remember the canard was uttered a long time ago: Ambassadors are men of virtue sent to lie abroad for their country. Secondly that’s only half the sentence.

A news writer is a man without virtue who lies at home for himself Sir Henry Wotton (1568 – 1639) added. He combined being ambassador in Vienna, with authorship and journalism who’s description of his trades have reverberated every since.

Across the world, governments have asked their Arabism experts to prepare policies to match the new challenges of the post-Mubarak era.

Was Wotton right? Were the representatives of foreign powers stationed in Egypt lying when they gave their fulsome support to Mubarak’s government? Off and on, I mingle with them and, frankly, I can’t remember an immoderate word passing their lips about Mubarak or his ministers.

Quite the reverse. One presentation praised the excellent cooperation on security, investment and cultural exchange between Egypt and Great Britain. Our Egyptian counterparts are very helpful the presenter said. We don’t have a problem.

In the midst of a street kafuffle a few years ago, a senior Egyptian police officer praised the training he’d received in the UK by British policemen to deal with such eventualities.

Clearly the Americans had confidence in the Mubarak security apparatus. They airlifted Al-Qaeda suspects into Cairo to be interrogated by Egyptians.

Now Britain, America, France, Germany, Italy and a host of other countries contemplate presenting their credentials to an Egyptian government of a different hue.

How will they reconcile their previous stance? Hence the flurry of activity in foreign offices in Europe and the State Department in Washington.

Foreign policy was defined absolutely when the Suez Canal was being built, or not built fast enough in Queen Victoria’s opinion. She was fed up hearing of India-bound friends disembarking at Suez to trudge across desert to link up with another ship in the Gulf of Arabia.

Frustrated, she demanded an answer from her prime minister, Henry Temple, Lord Palmerston. Which he did, as Hansard records in his speech to the House of Commons on March 1 1848.

It is a narrow policy to suppose that this country or that is to be marked out as the eternal ally or the perpetual enemy of England. We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.

Ever since, Britain and countless countries have evoked the logic of eternal interests to justify policies abroad.

That’s why Egypt’s new political leaders-in-waiting are putting Britain, America and some European countries on the long finger. China, India and South America don’t have form.

The history of the relationship with the West is ambiguous to say the least. Leaving aside conquests, the eternal interest is the necessity to fuel Europe and America’s industry.

The race was on once William D’Arcy won drilling rights in Persia in1901 in exchange for £20,000 and 16 percent of profits over the next 60 years.

It seemed a cinch. But facing bankruptcy, the British government stepped in and persuaded one of theirs, Burmah Oil to help out. In 1905 huge oilfields were found. In 1944 Everette DeGolyer, a prominent petroleum geologist told the U.S. government Middle East oil was the greatest single prize in history.

Nowadays North Africa’s prize is Liquid Natural Gas (LNG). One way or another Europe and America are invested up to their ears. Egypt’s Mediterranean fields are some of the most attractive. The gas field is deeper than the North Sea’s, requiring the expertise of U.K. drillers.

There are other prizes to be found in Egypt, mostly in the construction of new cities and infrastructure. But none ranks as highly as LNG.

Should Egypt’s new rulers cancel existing contracts, or allow some such as the export of half of Israel’s natural gas usage, the reaction in Europe would be apoplectic.

America’s interests are less towards economic investment. Its raison d’être is a bastion for refugees fleeing age-old conflicts. Being bloodied from Iraq to Afghanistan has bridled twinges of empire.

Remember Barack Obama’s speech at the Grand Hall of Cairo University on June 4 2009. This remains the most researched and reviewed policy document from the President.

These are the core words that changed American policy and put Europe on alert.

No system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election.

But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.

That is the focus of governments all around the world as they shift their policy towards the Middle East and Egypt as the region’s most influential area.

That is why Egyptians should consider carefully who should represent their interests to engage with the world: Those who promulgate nationalist isolationism, illiberalism and socialism? Or those who understand the difference between eternal friends and enemies and eternal interests?

The new geopolitics of responsibility: respecting the principals of justice and tolerance and the dignity of all human beings were enunciated and cheered to the rafters by Egypt’s youth assembled in Al-Azhar on June 4 2009.

Egypt’s youth took to the streets less than 12 months later: not in response, but reflecting a new order that they now suspect is being highjacked. They see self-centered egoists disguised in different political labels than Mubarak’s, displaying similar traits and the panache to deceive diplomatically.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo-based commentator.