Petticoat progress

International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

November 30 2011

Philip Whitfield

CAIRO: As Caesar approached the Rubicon at Ravenna returning from Gaul to Rome, he passed thought into legend: iacta alea est – the die is cast.

As many as 15 million Egyptians stood on the cusp of history deciding their destiny. Before midnight half of Egypt signaled its intent. The rest will follow.

Their largely peaceful procession out of oblivion is a majestic moment.

The conquest of evil is being achieved without blood being spilt. It is a landslide win for democracy and return to civilian rule.

The Arab Awakening has been the emergence of women as the driving force behind change. One image grabbed me. A young woman with her baby pressed gently into her bosom, guiding her Mum and her Grannie into the polling station – four generations of Egyptians making their mark on history.

Even the so-called Facebook revolution was a woman’s cause. Nadine Wahab an Egyptian immigrant and activist in Washington DC lent her Facebook account password to Wael Ghonim keep the page up.

History may dub this the Petticoat Revolution.

If I have discovered a means of ending the war will you all second me, asked Lysistrata… Oh! sister women, if we would compel our husbands to make peace, we must refrain…

The comic playwright of Athens Aristophanes (446–386 BC) portrayed the women barricading themselves in the Acropolis denying their menfolk their favors to persuade them to end the Peloponnesian war.

This week the men of Cairo looking for dinner on the table went wanting. Their womenfolk were still in line at the polling booths.

If there were any villains around they were restricted to petty crime – handing out fliers and setting up information offices outside polling stations. Not worth the trouble. Voter after voter said they knew exactly who they’d vote for before leaving home.

The European Union’s observers seemed to be satisfied. By and large the poll was devoid of fraud, they said.

I suppose we’ve come to expect people to turn up late for appointments. So the sleepy-eyed election judges that got out of bed late were admonished, kept up late to monitor after normal hours.

People who got out of bed on the wrong side in Tahrir Square looked sheepishly forlorn, dragging on fags on their dripping wet traffic island. Tahrir is a shrine to democracy, not a redoubt for shrilling.

Not all is done, however. Democracy is not won at the poll. It is won during the counting. There’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip, goes the English proverb.

Who watches the watchkeepers?

Fortunately the ballot papers are so complex they’re probably too confusing for your average plod to fathom, even with the opportunity.

My guess is people standing in line shared their intentions with their neighbors. They’ll know if the election gets rigged.

I’ve had faith that truth will out ever since I met the people who assembled in their hundreds of thousands in Tahrir Square on January 25. There’s always been a patent purity about them – the determination to disavow the bullyboys.

Their demeanor is infectious. Their perseverance is persuasive — from Tunis to Cairo, from Tripoli to Sana’a, from Manama to Homs the message is clear.

This is the most important event of modern history.

The integrity of Egyptians cannot be disputed. Who fills whose shoes is tremendously important. But it’s subordinate to the achievement.

Even those who seek to disrupt the process are being disarmed. A report from Suez says stevedores are refusing to unload 21 tons of tear gas sent from Jamestown, Pennsylvania to rearm the police.

They’ll run short of bullets as well. Denied their weaponry, the militia will soon be ineffectual.

The military have run out of ideas. They’re bunkered in bewilderment. Their every twist and turn is countered by people who have shown they are prepared to die for the cause.

My guess is that the ideas of people such as Mohamed ElBaradei and Naguib Sawiris will be sought in earnest. Both have vision for the country and the experience to run a large bureaucracy.

It’s time the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) listened.

What Egypt needs now is a period of calm. It’s imperative the economy is put to rights, back on its growth track. Egypt needs a strong helmsman, someone with the credibility, smarts and persuasive powers to put the ship on course.

Thus far SCAF has chosen from a pool of has-beens.

Egypt has chosen new representatives to enunciate their wishes. For once SCAF can get ahead of the game and give the people women and men who espouse that.

Et tu, Brute? were the last words of Julius Caesar, the fallen hero, despised for his dictatorship as Marcus Brutus held the assassin’s dagger.

SCAF was the hero of Tahrir at the beginning of the year. As 2011 closes it has a chance to leave the City Victorious with one glorious gesture: respond to the people and go gracefully garrison-ward.

In politics… never retreat, never retract… never admit a mistake, said Napoleon Bonaparte.

Look what happened to that male chauvinist.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator.




International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

November 28 2011

Philip Whitfield

CAIRO: Toss your hat in the air to celebrate democracy. As Churchill said, it may be the worst form of government except for all others that have been tried. He also said courage is standing up and speaking.

Now browse the coop. It’s like picking chickens after the fox had first dibs in the henhouse. All that’s left are broilers and roosters. The pullets and cockerels got gobbled.

The latest opinion poll on November 12 by the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies and the Danish-Egyptian Dialogue Institute gives the Muslim Brotherhood a third and Waft a quarter. The biggest group is befuddled.

Now go down to the polling station. The head of the Supreme Electoral Commission says it’s society’s salvation, secured by the Interior Ministry and military forces.

I don’t know whether that gives me confidence or the heebie-jeebies.

Rapscallions are out and about. Remember Gangs of New York where Martin Scorsese pared Leonardo DiCaprioand Cameron Diaz with Daniel Day-Lewis? Amsterdam Vallo, Jenny Everdeane and Bill Butcher Cutting are my kind of rascals.

There’s a great scene in Scorsese’s movie. The repeaters are shepherded into a barbershop to be shaved bald as billiard balls to vote again — unrecognized.

Vote early vote often is the Irish way. In Derry, John Hume showed me the way they do it. In the front of the church hall: curtained voting booths. In the back: a jumble sale presided over by priests and nuns.

You vote, go out the back; join the rummagers, switch clothes and backtrack to vote again with your new identity, filched from the cemetery headstones.

You do it all day. Come nightfall party loyalists sup free pints.

Was my friend, politician, confidante and Nobel Laureate ashamed? Hardly. The Brits gerrymandered the border elections to create an ersatz island, Northern Ireland.

In Chicago the democrats do it all the time. Old mayor Bill Daly did it for JFK’s dad. The kid was losing ‘till Daly got the ballots sorted. By sundown John F. Kennedy was off to the White House.

Daly demanded payback and got it. The world’s biggest wholesale house, the Merchandise Mart in downtown Chicago was built and paid for by the Kennedy clan out of bootleg booze bucks.

Bill Daly Jr. is the Chicago democrat Obama’s chief-of-staff. Once indebted, you’re always tied to your benefactor’s apron strings.

The Massachusetts lawyer Richard Dana wrote to his friend Lord Radstock in August 1859: Frauds will be committed in the excitement of great popular elections deciding the policy of the country and its vast patronage. The side with the greater number of dishonest men will poll the most votes. Vote early and vote often is their war cry.

In Egypt mutton dressed up as lamb has been handed out for peanuts. Need an apartment? No problem, they’re going spare in October 6th.  Need a ride to the poll? Ahmed will pick you up. Short of cash? Here’s a tenner. The other tenner comes after you vote.

All fine and dandy if you covet the old way. Lollygag in Looluland. On the other hand, if you want to achieve your ambition renounce cheatin’, lyin’ and fakin’ and try democracy.

Here’s the plan: Go to the election booth today. Pick up a ballot. Read it carefully. Mark your preferences.

When the results are declared file a protest under the terms of Egypt’s Election Law. You say you have reason to believe your vote was not counted among the voters in xyz constituency.

Now hire a lawyer. He’ll begin a process that will either prove or disprove the election has been a fraudulent sham. You and he know there’s no chance of winning.

You and he know my colleagues in the media will report the story of Egypt’s fraudulent election. That’s democracy.

Why bother? Because justice demands the villains are emasculated by a voter jolt. Forget not the hundreds of thousands of martyrs and those whose lives have been pulverized by police rapists and torturers, by bludgeoning bigots and cowards carting cudgels.

The reason for voting is to pay homage to those who went into the line of fire for liberty. On the ground they were young and old, women and men. On the fringe a cadre of journalists reported the truth fearlessly. Show them your respect. Without them you would know nothing.

Take heart. The fat cats are meowing. The Stock Market has lost $5 billion. It’s down 50 percent on the year. Government reserves have dwindled by a third since SCAF too over. The Egyptian pound’s value against the dollar has hit a six-year low.

Soon the maggots’ moolah masked in mysterious foreign vaults will be worth more than the government’s chest.

Tourists are nowhere. Everywhere factories are on strike. The banks have started closing early.


Nonsense. The chickens have come home to roost.

The military has lost the respect of the poor. They lost any respect the Copts had when 30 were killed at Maspero. They lost the Facebook revolutionaries when they dragged them in for daring to speak their minds on the Internet.

They lost the so-called elite when they plunged them into penury. They lost the newspaper editors when they hauled them in as well.

They lost the mothers and children of protesters they carted off to jail.They lost the support of human rights activists. They lost the support of their own diplomats abroad.

They’ve lost the support of the middle class that dithers knowing not what to do.

So who does support the military? Themselves.

The irony is they can’t vote in the election. Neither can the police. They can watch. But they’ve promised a free and fair ballot and count. No dickering around with the ballot papers this time.

The unresolved revolution is being resolved today. This is the moment to forsake the wilderness of despair and boldly stride towards hope’s horizon.

Winston Churchill’s wisdom, from a man who won the war and lost the election to usher in peace, is humbling: Courage is what it takes to sit down and listen.

Take courage and vote. Then, everyone, listen to what the voters say. Not what you wish they said.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator.

Trial and execution

International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

November 24 2011

Philip Whitfield

CAIRO: You want to know where this is heading? I’ll bet my bottom dollar on a speedy end and a new beginning on Monday. Why the confidence?

If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly — Shakespeare’s Macbeth contemplating the demise of Duncan.

The Duncan in Egypt’s drama is SCAF, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Macbeth is the supreme blessing of Egypt’s one voice in Tahrir Square.

SCAF thought they could play the country for a fool. They attempted to hoodwink the decent citizenry with hogwash.

Remember what the Queen told Alice when she asked for jam: You could have had jam yesterday. You may have jam tomorrow. But you can’t have jam today.

Be gone the Egyptian vox populi chorused. Go back from whence you came.

History is littered with military commanders that choose foolish options. Napoleon and Rommel thought they could capture and control Cairo. They failed.

In the 9th and 10th Dynasties Egypt split into the north, ruled from Herakleopolis, and the south, ruled from Thebes. That project failed. Mentuhotep II reunited Egyptians in 2134 BC.

Then Amenemhet moved the capital back to Memphis and Sesostris II reorganized Egypt into four regions.

Ahmose finally beat the Hyksos and sent them out of Egypt. Thutmose I conquered parts. Hatshepsut and Thutmose made Egypt a super power.

Tutankhamen reigned.

No matter who came and monkeyed around with the Egyptian people, they fled empty handed.

The simple truth is under the surface Egyptians share an extraordinary fascination with each other. One-on-one they love to explore each other’s thinking. It’s the wonder of being Egyptian.

Before you finish a sentence, your friend jumps in to disagree. It’s not an argument. It’s not a stab in the back. It’s the joy of banter.

Politicians exploit what they take for disunity for their own self-serving self interest. They’re the donkeys. Not the people. They’re stupid enough to ride camels into a morass. Egyptians give Johnny Come Latelys their comeuppance.

The soldiers who came to the people’s rescue in Tahrir Square after the eruption in January were welcomed hand in hand as one hand.

SCAF bottled the bargain. Generals are not politicians.

Leadership’s definition is organizing a group of people to achieve a common goal, which means service. Once SCAF started laying down the law, as they wanted it to be, they were doomed.

They knew it a couple of days ago when they called their soldiers out of Tahrir Square. The sound of the retreat was deafening. Egypt bolted into the void.

SCAF thought they were playing out one of Horace’s five-acts: A play should not be shorter or longer than five acts.

The people were in no mood for anything more than an Aristotelian three-act play: The protasis, epitasis, and catastrophe (beginning middle and end). They liked the beginning — 18 days in January and February ending with Mubarak carted off stage. They were enjoying the middle bit — the talking shops.

When it got predictable, they decided to fire the scriptwriter and write their own ending, which won’t be completed on Monday in the polling booths. But it will signal the beginning of the end.

SCAF’s tactical mistakes aren’t down to one man. The generals misunderstood the headings for each act. First you have Freedom. Then you have Democracy and finally you end up with Justice.

In that order. That’s the way the plot goes.

SCAF got it all jumbled up and replaced synonyms with antonyms. They wrote a scenario that began with Confinement, moved on to Autocracy and would have ended with Injustice.

For a while the actors wheeled in to mouth their words played their roles. After all when you’re an out-of-work politician any gig is worth a shilling. But even they began to mess up their lines.

As Steve Jobs famously said, being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me … going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful… that’s what matters to me…I was worth over $1 million when I was 23, and over $10 million when I was 24, and over $100 million when I was 25, and it wasn’t that important because I never did it for the money.

The Cabinet wasn’t in it for the money either. Good men some of them. But now they are early retirees. They’re escaping before the people smother them in tomatoes and rotten eggs.

On TV, the billionaire industrialist Naguib Sawiris tells BBC’s HARDtalk, which produced a wonderfully enlightened programme yesterday from all over Egypt: The country is going bust. It will be bankrupt in a few months. The Arab states promised money. Nothing came because they don’t want the revolution to work and spread to them.

Was he worried, asked Steven Sackur?

Not at all, said Sawiris. If you knew the Egyptian people you would have faith in them and trust them. Egypt will rise again, but not in the way it was.

Oh, how right he is. A man who is not in it for the money.

Egypt will regain its stature in the world. It won’t take decades. Sawiris said maybe three or four years.

Why is Sawiris right?

Egyptians are predominately young. They deserve an education that teaches them why a slice of lemon floats on the surface of a glass of water while a much lighter slice of peel sinks to the bottom.

I gave this practical example to two young people eating with me on Monday, one a trainee, the other a young woman who asked what she should do to get a decent job.

They are inquisitive and curious to get to the bottom of things. They aren’t prepared to take their future for granted doled out by dopes.

They have begun life’s enrichment through learning to use the reasoning skills taught in schools in China, India, Indonesia, Europe and the Americas to resolve problems.

A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool, wrote Shakespeare

Where? As You Like It.The study notes say the play denotes the restoration and regeneration of society through the affirmation of brotherly love, tolerance for different viewpoints, and optimism about life at large.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator.

Smoking guns

International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

November 23 2011

Philip Whitfield

CAIRO: Pause for a moment to wipe away a tear remembering Ben Corson and Roger Stoughton. They bring a teardrop to many an eye – the C and S in their surnames being the CS or, as the brochure puts it, the dispensing irritant agent they invented in a lab at Middlebury College in 1928.

The gas was refined by the British army in Porton Down, Wiltshire in the 1950s and 60s tested on animals and squaddies. The animals were OK due to their tiny tear ducts and furry faces. The squaddies wept buckets.

A choking Tahrir Square protester holds up the blue-banded silver tear gas cartridge, which the catalog I’m browsing identifies as the multi-5 projectile (model number 3235), which dispenses irritant agent or smoke via rapid burning.

The CS gas manufacturer’s blurb says its benefit is its effectiveness up to 73 meters. What happens if the breeze is blowing your way 200 meters downwind? You’re choked.

The catalog says firing the outdoor model (there’s an indoor version for use with the door kicker) will disperse unruly crowds during riots and civil disorder.

Fat chance here. Quite the reverse is true. Thousands are joining the Tahrir Square demos betting the wind will change with their help.

The advertising agency for Combined Systems Incorporated (CSI) the tear gas manufacturers, should be awarded this year’s top award by the American Advertising Federation, their Honor for Excellence. Their client is igniting thousands more people to come onto the streets undeterred by their rapid burning irritant agent.

Mubarak went shopping for gas grenades and launchers in 2010, sending the list to CSI Jamestown, Pennsylvania with pretty specific specifications. Mubarak wanted tens of thousands of CS gas munitions and the 37 mm TL-1 launchers with iron front post and rear groove sights to fire them.

The president signed off on the ones with break-open single frame smooth double-action barrels and trigger lock push button and hammer safeties.

Price was no object. The American congress had gifted him $1.3 billion. The only proviso was that Mubarak had to spend his cash in America. Those of the terms of America’s foreign military aid.

Mubarak would be at home in Jamestown, a family-style jeans and T-shirt small town where the population at the last count is 99.52 percent white — 636 people, 269 households, 171 families.

Joe Lunch Buckets every man Jack of them, earning an average $26,979 a year and a family income worth 240,000 Egyptian pounds.

They spent some of their nickels and dimes at the town’s 68th annual Community Fair a few weeks back. The seven o’clock breakfast offered coffee, orange juice, pancakes, sausage gravy, sausage, bacon, toast, biscuits, scrambled eggs, home fries and canned fruit.

Four hours later lunch was chili, chicken soup, cheeseburgers, sloppy Joes, hot sausage patties with onions, chicken and egg salads, cabbage and noodles.

At 3 p.m. out came the pies – apple, cherry, blueberry, red raspberry, peach, blackberry, strawberry, pumpkin and elderberry. And there were pineapple, white, chocolate and angle food cakes.


Think about this. These homey folk pay their taxes so that their government can go get customers for the products they make at the plant over the way: Weapons to slap down folks whose only dream is to enjoy the freedom, democracy and justice that allows them to elect their mayor, police chief, school board and dog-catcher.

The more CS gas rounds they stuff into boxes marked Egypt, the more blueberry pancakes and pork sausages they can stuff into their bellies.

To keep the merry-go-round whirling the makers of CS gas, rubber bullets, launchers, riot shields and protective armor need rioters. The more the merrier at Jamestown USA.

While they’re at it the CSI packing department should slip a few baloney sandwiches in the crates.

But you know what? While it’s legal to march to Tahrir Square, it is illegal to send arms from America to Egypt to bonk the protesters. America is a nation of laws. Try this one.

Under the terms of the Foreign Appropriations Act that authorizes Congress to ship arms to friendlies, there’s a stipulation, written in 2001 by Senator Patrick Leahy, the smoothie of Vermont that says none of the funds may be provided to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if there’s credible evidence that gross violations of human rights are being conducted.

Furthermore, unless such governments are taking effective measures to bring the members of the security forces responsible to justice, Americas must not send them weaponry unless the secretary of state (Mrs. Hilary Clinton) waves it.

Before Egypt’s revolution, then US Ambassador in Egypt Margaret Scoby and her defense attaché Major General ‘Pink’ Williams sat down with two lobbyists paid by the Egyptian military to get their killing kit, Bob Livingston, former chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and his sidekick Bill Miner, a decorated US navy pilot.

Scobey is an expert on human rights. She headed up covert operations out of the US Embassy in Baghdad before coming to Cairo. Previously she’d done the job in Beirut.

At the Cairo pow-wow, she signed off on 30 to 50 Egyptian majors and colonels going to America for explosives training and gave them clean bills of health for specialized military training.

Tahrir Square was what it was all about. America boasts exporting freedom and democracy in public. Privately it makes its bucks in places like Jamestown packaging lethal gas.

Lethal? According to The Guardian, several incidents indicate Jamestown’s Hell’s Kitchen cooks up munitions that cause injury and death.

A Palestinian, Bassem Abu Rahmah was killed on two years ago when a CSI 40 mm model 4431 powder barricade penetrating tear gas grenade made in Jamestown struck him in the chest. A marine in Fallujah sued the flash-bang grenade makers of Jamestown for causing serious damage to his left hand after it exploded accidently.

Enough said. New era Egypt needs new friends who don’t take to heart Marie Antoinette’s supposed quip to the peasants protesting in the French Revolution: Let them eat cake.

What happened to her? At lunchtime on October 16 1793 her 37-year-old head was chopped off on the guillotine.

Her last words presaged Mubarak’s defense by 218 years: Pardon me sir, I meant not to do it.’

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator.


International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

November 21, 2011

By   Philip Whitfield

CAIRO: …all my troubles seemed so far away.

I was singing away with the Beatles not far from Tahrir Square when gunfire rang out, sirens wailed and I feared the worst.

There’s a shadow hanging over me. Oh, yesterday came suddenly.

I’m in awe of the people who are so inspired by the revolution that they congregate en masse to protest their rights. I accept their sincerity. I question the wisdom of their tactics.

There’s a world of difference in the mood, the issues and the participants nowadays in Tahrir Square demos and others around the country.

Their demeanor is far from peaceful. The protesters are provocative. Their splodge of colored grease on their faces is war paint. Some of them walk intimidatingly; that hands-in-the-pockets way you wonder what they’re holding.

A coin or a knife?

The chants and choruses are equally intimidating if you’re on the opposing side.

If you have the chance to talk to them, it’s bewildering how arid the words are — such a far cry from the enigmatic articulation out of the square immediately post January 25.
Then it was all about freedom, justice and democracy. Now it’s about…well you tell me. I asked around the other day, just to make sure I was on track. The astute observers, who’ve been following politics since they were knee high to a grasshopper told me they get the inside scoop from the experts on the fringes of the demos.

On the fringes, I asked? Stay on the fringes I was told.

Well perhaps figuratively. But I don’t think the excellent and brave reporters who are following this cower from the fray. On the other hand nobody expects them to walk into the line of fire.

Tomorrow’s another day.

So what am I driving at?

The Tahrir Revolution was unique in modern times. Not for being the Facebook revolution, but for the harmony binding the participants together. Tolerance ruled among them.

Recall the joyous faces, even tears when the dictator was humbled and skulked out of the back door — albeit to a luxurious villa in Paradise. Many thought this was the plot. Who knows? If he does, he’s not telling.

The continuance of protests may have had an effect on the aftermath. Somehow I doubt it. It takes time for prosecutors to assemble a case. They might have their suspicions. But they need the hard evidence to convict under the statutes in any country.

Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. In the end the top honchos were corralled and are being wheeled through the courts.

Those hiding in London and Dubai will be brought to justice one day. Their assets will be confiscated. Their lives are in tatters. Others who think they’ve slipped the net should be wary. Soon those doing the lassoing will be serving different masters.

Which brings me to my point. Next week almost 50 million Egyptians have their chance to make the difference everyone yearns. They can vote for candidates who espouse a peaceful transition from chaos to calm, from harassment to harmony and from combat to concord.

There are going to be those who try to mangle the election. They’ll probably gather outside polling stations in some parts. Every crowd has its bullyboys. Take heed and go with friends. Ignore the bribes. Today’s ill-gotten gain is the morrow’s buyer’s remorse.
The Tahrir spirit lies deep in the nation’s soul now. Fear is not an option. Neither should the police or military be afraid. They’re paid to create the conditions for voters to get to the polls and cast their vote without fear or favor.

That means declaring a cordon sanitaire around every polling station sufficiently encompassing as to allow voters free access. That’s the police’s duty. They have the Emergency Law. Use it for the purposes it was intended.

Military rule is not working. I’ve said it before and you’ve read it on the front page of this newspaper day after day. Many editors, academics and western politicians have expressed their disgust.

It’s important to bear in mind that the militia never rule satisfactorily. Almost invariably they are accused of seizing power for their own ends. But you should remember that those that do are generally excommunicated, as it were, by the global officer elites. They end up running broken down tin-pot operations no one takes seriously. In Africa, Asia and South America, and not forgetting Eastern Europe, they often end up in penury or in the rifle sights of an assassin.

Egypt is not a ramshackle place. Its political class is not ignorant, nor tone deaf. I believe they will respond if the people give them a clear mandate next week to renounce violence and settle old scores in the place built for them — the parliament.

No other gesture could cut the legs from underneath the subversives, wherever they come from.

How can that be accomplished?

I’ve written this before, but I believe it’s worth repeating. Women, young and old, are the ubiquitous face of Egypt’s revolution.

The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world, wrote the American poet William Ross Wallace (1819-81). Who ran to help me when I fell and would some pretty story tell? Or kiss the place to make it well? My mother, wrote the 19th Century English author Ann Taylor.

There may be an unbalanced number of men running for election — that’s true anywhere in the world. But look how many have gained high office?

Angela Merkel, the leader of Europe, comes to mind. What a superb job she’s doing banging heads together without spilling a drop of blood. Hillary Clinton is proving to be a superb secretary of state. There are many more. Julia Gillard in Australia is another currently in the news, hosting President Obama. She’s a toughie. She’s no Ghala gasbag, as they say in there. She’s good oil.

It’s not quantity that matters. It’s the quality of candidates that count.

Next up: the youthful leaders of the revolution. Did you really expect them to win office? Neither did they. A few are running and good luck to them. What’s important is to demonstrate to them that they are worthy winners and will become champions in time.

The old party hacks, whichever party they come from, aren’t worth a spit. In or out of government they connived in shameful abuse of power, robbing the poor to give to the rich.

Can a leopard change its spots?

Not without skinning it alive.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator.

Calamity stalks the wings

International Herald Tribune Daily News Cairo

November 17 2011

Philip Whitfield

CAIRO: If your mother says she loves you check it out – Dornie’s mantra. Arnold Dornfeld, night news editor of Chicago’s now defunct City News Bureau that inspired The Front Page, left his mark on reporters passing through. Including me.


Our true story is about a suicide mission, cross-border assassinations, Egypt’s most wanted captured without a peep, and collusion most high.

As in any absorbing mystery, nothing is as it seems at first glance. Like many a drama, the cops are heroes. One of the most powerful men in the world drops everything to pay his respects. The villains recant. A long-range missile that could eviscerate a capital is defused.

Act I

Scene I: The curtain rises with a femme fatale’s voice wafting across the set. Condoleezza Rice announces military force is a real option for regime change in Iran (BBC TV).

August 18. The spotlight picks out a group wearing military vests and armed with assault rifles, RPGs, roadside bombs and bomb belts crossing into Israel.

The authorities describe the raid by armed Gaza attackers crossing into Israel from Egypt to carry out multiple deadly attacks near the Red Sea resort of Eilat. Eight Israelis are killed and 30 wounded (New York Times).

Scene II: Six Egyptian police officers and undisclosed others die during a shoot-out when Israeli forces chase suspects across the border into Egypt (Egyptian Gazette).

Scene III: Israeli forces strike targets in Gaza. Four days of cross-border violence leave 15 Palestinians dead and 50 wounded (Ma’an, Palestine’s agency).

Act II

Scene I: Two days later. Diplomats scramble to avert a crisis in relations between Egypt and Israel. The Israeli government issues a rare statement of regret for killing Egyptian security officers. Tensions between the two countries reach the worst point in three decades since the Camp David Accords (New York Times).

Scene II: Outraged Egyptians stage huge protests outside the Israeli Embassy in Cairo calling for the expulsion of the ambassador (Reuters).

September 9. Hundreds of protesters break through a security wall and dump documents out of embassy windows (Associated Press).

Three people die and more than 1,000 are injured (Guardian).

Ambassador Yitzhak Levanon, his family and embassy officials flee on an Israeli military plane (Egyptian State TV).

Scene III: Egyptian foreign minister Mohamed Amr says Israel expresses deep regret and apologies with condolences to the police officers’ families (MENA, Egypt’s official news agency).


Diplomats discuss moving on. Attention turns to elections, world economic crisis and to the tragedy of Syria.


Scene I: Two explosions at an ammunition depot 25 miles away shake Tehran. Revolutionary Guards say a massive explosion at a weapons depot on a military base killed several people (Fars, semi-official Iran news agency).

Scene II: Mossad May Have Bombed Iranian Missile Base. 40 dead and wounded during transfer of explosives at the garrison, which houses Shahab-3 and Zelzal-2 surface-to-surface missiles. Among the dead is the ‘father of Iran’s nuclear program Major General Hassan Moqaddam. (Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam, Seattle, USA)

The attack was the handiwork of Israel in collaboration with the Mujahedeen Al-Khalq – an Iranian opposition group (Time Magazine).

Scene III: In the presence of the Ayatollah Khomeini, Mayor Mohammad Qalibaf delivers a eulogy describing General Moqaddam as a martyr (BBC).

These words are an admission that foreign forces killed him. (Prof. Muhammad Sahimi, an Iran news analyst for PBS).

Act IV

Scene I: A special Egyptian force along with APCs surround Mohamed Al-Teehi hiding in a beach hut in El-Arish. They arrest him without any problem. Al-Teehi tops Egypt’s most-wanted list, leading the armed Islamist group Al-Takfir Wa Al-Hijra (Excommunication and Exodus (MENA).

Scene II: Authorities say Al-Teehi is the mastermind behind attacks on police stations in the city. Al-Takfir Wa Al-Hijra is responsible for the pipeline bombings that have disrupted gas supplies to Israel and Jordan (Reuters).

Al Takfir is partly under the leadership of Ayman Al-Zawahiri, leader of Al-Qaeda (the recently deceased Professor Paul Wilkinson, Director of St Andrews University’s Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence).

Scene III: The curtain rises as the Arab League assemble in Cairo to deliberate what to do next.


Condoleezza Rice: The Iranian regime is the poster child for state terrorism. It’s time now to deal seriously with that regime. The time for sanctions with the lowest common denominator has passed.

King Abdulla of Jordan: If I were in Bashar Al-Assad’s shoes I’d step down now.

France’s foreign minister Alain Juppe: It’s time to look for more protection for Syrian civilians.

Britain’s foreign secretary William Hague: It’s important that the European Union consider additional measures to stop the unacceptable violence in Syria.

The Arab League’s Nabil Al-Arabi: Mechanisms are being studied to protect Syrian civilians.

Who’s been denied entrance to the dialogue? Syria.

Why? So they can’t hear what the actors are planning next.


Shakespeare: Parting is such sweet sorrow.

Julius Caesar: Cowards die many times before their deaths.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator.

Jumping frogs

International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

November 14 2011

Philip Whitfield

CAIRO: Betting on certainties is a mug’s game. Forecasting voters’ intentions in Egypt is dotty. Anything could happen in the next two weeks before the poll. But there are some straws in the wind.

You should listen to your friends. For Egypt that means understanding what its partners abroad are thinking. Let’s face it after the election foreigners’ goodwill will be required to get the economy moving.

An interesting perspective comes from the UAE. Egypt’s generals risk stability for their own self-interest says The National, a government-owned newspaper. The editorial pillories the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) for riding roughshod over the people,

Egypt’a generals will appoint 80 of the 100 members of the panel assigned to write the constitution. Only 20 will be parliamentarians, the paper says. It adds there have also been trial balloons for a presidential candidacy by Field Marshal Tantawi,

Their opinion is the revolution that galvanized Egypt last February seems to be turning to water. Egyptians would do well to look to Tunisia, where Islamist and secularist parties are coming together to form a government following fair elections.

In the New York Times Neil MacFarquhar says a group of upstart, mostly liberal parties will challenge the Muslim Brotherhood’s well-organized juggernaut as well as remnants of the old government’s political machine.

MacFarquhar says Egypt’s basic election math goes something like this: Among up to 50 million voters, 20 to 30 percent are believed to be supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood or other Islamist factions and are sure to vote. The elite and the Coptic Christian minority, comprising less than 20 percent are likely to be committed to civilian rule and are also eager to vote.

Hence the challenge is to win over the roughly 50 percent of undecided voters — not least in getting them to vote.

Under the headline, An Islamist Egypt? New York Post readers have been getting a taste of what might happen in Egypt. Liberated from 60 years of military rule, will Egyptians hand over their destiny to parties that could impose another despotism in the name of religion, asks Amir Tahiri?

He reckons Egypt could jump out of the frying pan into the fire, opting for Islamists who are spending on a no-tomorrow basis. He examples interest-free loans, free doctors and hospitals, free food and clothing and cash handouts to persuade poverty-stricken Egyptians to help them dominate the parliament.

He says after six decades the military represent a state within the state. They fear a democratic parliament would nationalize their businesses and submit them to the law of the land.

The military like the taste of power and don’t want to abandon their privileges, Tahiri says. Their average salaries are a third higher than civil servants’. They run more than 4,000 companies that pay no taxes. The military import virtually whatever they like duty-free. They have their gated residential compounds, exclusive hospitals, supermarkets and resorts, New Yorkers read.

One of the most astute observers of the scene is David Ignatius, for three years executive editor of the International Herald Tribune, an associate editor and columnist for the Washington Post. Why is security so bad, he asks?

He visited the Ain el-Sira police station in a rundown Cairo district to find out. He found it empty, except for one white-clad policeman named Hani Salama Yousef.

Asked why his colleagues have disappeared, the cop bows his head: We are depressed. When we go to protect people, they don’t respect us, he says. The police, like nearly everyone else in Egypt these days, have been on strike. One of their 15 demands is the right for pious Muslims to wear beards.

Ignatius says Egypt should make haste slowly to make sure the fundamentals of the constitution are right.

What’s clear to me is that SCAF simply doesn’t get it. Disregarding their featherbedding and contempt for accountability, how can they afford to ignore the global repugnance of their activities?

It’s also clear, as these foreign writers say they are attempting to load the dice by ignoring flagrant breaches of law. Islamists are using mosques as election pulpits. Former Mubarak acolytes masquerading as liberals are on the ticket.

Meanwhile law and order, which is their business is out of control.

Their focus is bashing secular groups and rounding up would-be politicians who were responsible for ridding the country of a tyrant’s control.

Apart from the consequences at home, look at the damage being done. The economy is crawling along. Foreign direct investment has dried up. Reserves of foreign currencies are falling month by month.

Tourism is in the doldrums. Foreigners are heading elsewhere for their holidays. A couple of examples: Since January the number of tourists choosing Dubai is up 11 percent and revenues increased 19 percent. Hotels were 100 percent booked for Eid and expect to be booked 90 percent for the coming months. Turkey reports a 9 percent increase this year.

Greece’s only immediate way out of its quandary is to boost tourism to pay its debts.  Some say Greece and Italy will forsake the euro – just as Argentina cut the link to the dollar in similar straights 10 years ago, devalued and then regained its regional dominance.

However it goes for Greece and Italy the southern European Mediterranean states are putting the squeeze on Egypt.

Egypt’s only sure bet is to vote for democracy. Fiddling around, trying to fool the people won’t work. Denying human rights destines military regimes to the dustbin of history. It’s only a matter of time.

Mark Twain rose to fame after he wrote a story Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog. He picked it up in a bar. Jim Smiley trained a frog to jump higher than any other frog. He’d bet anything his frog could win against all comers.

Then along came an interloper who filled Jim’s frog’s mouth with shotgun pellets while Jim wasn’t looking.  For the first time in his life Jim lost his bet.

SCAF might think it’s got all it’s bases covered. But the public has an unerring habit of confounding those who think they know what they’re thinking.

After its publication Mark Twain recognized the Jumping Frog story was more than 2,000 years old – told in a Greek myth.

Look what happened to the Greeks – humiliatingly toppled from their lofty perch after they were caught cooking the books.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator.