Decoding the Syrian Propaganda War

by Anand Gopal

(originally published in Harper’s)

Last month, video emerged from the Syrian town of Tremseh showing scores of blood-sodden bodies of children and adults, some with cracked skulls and slit throats, all of them purported victims of the Syrian army. As the camera panned across the grisly tableau, an anguished commentator read out the names of the dead and cried, “God is greater!” The Syrian National Council, an umbrella rebel group, announced that 305 people had been killed, making Tremseh the gravest massacre of the fifteen-month-long uprising. Hillary Clinton decried this “indisputable evidence that the regime murdered innocent civilians,” and the United Nations issued its strongest condemnation of Syria to date.

Anand Gopal writes frequently about the Middle East and South Asia. He is the author of “Welcome to Free Syria,” in the August 2012 issue of Harper’s Magazine. His book about the war in Afghanistan is forthcoming from Henry Holt.

But there was a problem—no one had actually visited the town. The New York Times,for instance, reported the story from Beirut and New York, relying solely on statements and video from anti-Assad activists and the testimony of a man from “a nearby village” who visited the scene afterward. When the first U.N. investigators arrived two days later, they uncovered a very different story. Instead of an unprovoked massacre of civilians, the evidence pointed to a pitched battle between resistance forces and the Syrian army. Despite rebel claims that there had been no opposition fighters in Tremseh, it turned out that guerrillas had bivouacked in the town, and that most of the dead were in fact rebels. Observers also downgraded the death toll to anywhere from forty to a hundred.

The battles of the Syrian revolution are, among other things, battles of narrative. As I recount in “Welcome to Free Syria,” the regime has indeed committed grievous massacres, including one I saw evidence of in the northern town of Taftanaz. The Assad government also puts forth a narrative—the country is under siege from an alliance of criminal gangs, Al Qaeda, and the CIA—that is quite removed from reality. Yet there is also a powerful pull in the West to order a messy reality into a simple and self-serving narrative. The media, which largely favors the revolution, has at times uncritically accepted rebel statements and videos—which themselves often originate from groups based outside the country—as the whole story. This in turn provides an incentive for revolutionaries to exaggerate. A Damascus-based activist told me that he had inflated casualty numbers to foreign media during the initial protests last year in Daraa, because “otherwise, no one would care about us.”

Some in the West are equally uncritical in their skepticism toward the revolutionaries. Mike Rogers (R., Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, recently declared that as many as a quarter of Syrian rebel groups may be inspired by Al Qaeda—which, according to those who have been inside and met the resistance, is simply not the case. Al Qaeda–style groups can be found among the revolutionaries, but they remain rare. Moreover, radical Islam is far more complex than Washington tends to appreciate. I’ve met beer-guzzling Syrian rebels who carried the black Al Qaeda flag, but for whom this was no contradiction: Islamist stylings in Syria are typically part performance vocabulary, part unifying norm in a riven society, part symbolic invocation of guerrilla struggle in a post–Iraq War world, and part expression of pure faith.

How do we pick through the signaling? There’s still no substitute for on-the-ground reporting (another recent New York Times article that was reported entirely outside Syria sounded alarm at Al Qaeda taking “a deadly new role in the conflict”). But we also need to examine our epistemic framework for the revolution. Syrians are fighting for complex reasons that often do not conform to the way Western leaders have ordered their knowledge of the world: “moderate” versus “extremist” or Western-style democracy versus dictatorship. As my feature illustrates, some of the revolutionaries have established councils that look unlike our institutions, but that are deeply democratic in their own way. Others adore Western-style social liberalism but scoff at the West’s free-market ethos. Others seek some variety of religious law. And most probably don’t know yet what they want, except to live in dignity, free from political and economic repression.

But the complexity doesn’t end there, because, as I realized during my visit, the revolutionaries themselves face a powerful need to order facts in certain ways. The rebels I met in Idlib Governorate spoke of every defeat they suffered as a tactical retreat. Or they insisted that their uprising was supported by all minorities, even as it was becoming unmistakably sectarian. Such claims are designed in part, to be sure, for foreign consumption, but they also serve the rebels themselves. They create value and meaning in what might otherwise be a state of anomie, cohering people around a just and fruitful cause even as families are slaughtered and the regime stands unbroken. Following a devastating series of defeats in northern Syria this spring, I asked a rebel commander there whether he thought Assad would ever fall. “Of course,” he replied. “I know we will win—otherwise, why would we still fight?”

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western feminism’s relationship with Islamic feminism and notions of “visibility”

by Ari Burton

(originally published in hoax zine)

The first book I ever bought on Islamic feminism sits on the shelf adjacent to the bed in my childhood room. Its maroon cover is subsumed by the mountain of books piled on top of it in order to maximize shelf space. I remember the amalgamation of tan lettering that forms the title without even having to pull it off the shelf; In Search of Islamic Feminism: One Woman’s Global Journey by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea. It marks my adolescent forays into feminist theory, the excitement which bounced off the walls of my pubescent soul at having discovered women’s liberation. No longer did I feel like the overly-radical black outcast plopped smack dab in white quasi-Republican suburbia. Other people in the world wanted to talk about gender equality instead of occasionally yelling “girl power” because the Spice Girls made it trendy for little white girls to coyfully bite back at patriarchy all while still falling into the same fucked up mousetraps of beauty standards and sexist ideals. This book was one of many which helped me feel less alone, despite having never actually read it.

Now, two days away from marking a month of living as a Muslim woman, I want nothing more than to throw it away. I want to send it packing along with its literary compatriots whose pages embark on Christopher Columbus-eque missions, charting boats made of words and punctuation marks into this new, unfamiliar world called Islamic feminism. I want to stop the boots of these intellectual conquistadors from leaving their footprints on land they have very little business treading, because their manifest mission isn’t to understand how Muslim feminist movements fit into the frameworks of the societies they exist in, but to find reflections of white western feminist ideals transplanted in an unexpected geographic locale. They want to find a Rose the River with a “Middle Eastern” name who carries the banner of “Yes We Can” in her own native language. They want to delight in these “oppressed” women challenging the patriarchal conventions placed over their niqab covered heads by readings great works such as Lolita and The Feminine Mystique, books that theoretically demonstrate a liberated person in the same western imagination which still sees that part of the world as being backwards and behind. They want to see these women burn their burkas in place of bras, don power suits or pants, and blast Middle eastern reduxes of riot-grrl music in their eco-friendly compact cars to show the world that feminism has come to the war-torn, poverty-stricken, patriarchal sand dunes.

Essentially feminists like Fernea have no vested interest in actual Islamic feminism and its visibility in the global fight for gender egalitarianism. Their scholarship masquerades under the guise of expose journalism, purportedly shedding light on what is thought to be a great oxymoron. They hop international flights seeking to understand this great unknown, returning to the west with their own feminist ethnographies meant to aid others in the “holistic” study of women and gender in the academic sphere. In reality they merely want to look in a trans-planted mirror and see themselves.

For a genre which claims to bring about higher levels of visibility, the scholarship of white western feminists seeking to understand Islamic feminism does the complete opposite. This genre of scholarship is not about Islamic feminists and how they navigate the tensions of their world to their individual identities. Readers who pick up these books will be hard-pressed to find Islamic feminists speaking from their own voices. These are not edited anthologies where women are given the page space to discuss themselves in the context of their political movement, their personal lives and the global fight for gender egalitarianism. Instead they are regulated to the space inside the occasional set of quotation marks and the descriptions which are supposed to provide context to the commentary. Much like the book and movie The Help, the portrays of these women are about as dimensional as matzah bread and continually imposes their western feminist paradigm onto the lived experience while using these women’s voices as validation.

This type of scholarship has not only made a severe mockery of Islamic feminism by regulating its participants and their stories to side show status, but it has effectively succeeded in putting a distinct face on an entire movement of people. Islamic feminist in this purview does not mean a women-identified Muslim who believes in ideas of gender egalitarianism, but generally an Arab woman living in a Muslim country fighting that society’s patriarchal standards and working to be more liberated in line with her western sisters in the struggle. She is shucking away the husks of her backward, oppressive, religious society and stepping into the sunshine of modernity to warm and tan her kernels. She is the face of Islamic feminism, a cardboard cutout concocted by the chimerical imaginations of western feminists who refuse to believe global gender egalitarianism can come if women make different choices than those who identify with the feminist movement living in America. She plays into the notion that a monolithic global movement is the only way to progress, and people in the developing world would be wise to hop on the band-wagon before others have to come in and save them. She silences the voices of those who believe in gender egalitarianism but are not Arab and living in Middle Eastern Muslim societies. Her existence as a fantasy character for which western feminism gets to role-play signals to a larger problem about the relationship to academic scholarship and the Muslim world, that Muslim is automatically connotated with Arab Middle Easterners, and the analytic frameworks built around them is supposed to trickle down to the rest of the Muslim world.

I can honestly say as a queer Muslim womanist, the scholarship surrounding Arab Muslim feminists has fuck all to do with me. That cardboard cutout circulating as the face of global Islamic feminism doesn’t speak for me. She doesn’t speak for the African diasporic Muslim women who are forming their own relationships with gender egalitarianism in the worlds they live in and the Muslim spaces they navigate. She doesn’t speak for the ways in which gender egalitarian movements manifest themselves in predominately Muslim African countries which are non-Arab and the specific challenges they face. She only flushes our experiences out of existence and into a sea of other non-Arab Muslim folk who believe in the gender egalitarian movement but are not given the space to speak for themselves.

She’ll never speak for me as a Muslim womanist because in my mind the two geographic locals and their gender struggles hardly apply to each other. I don’t live under Shar’ia law, but instead a constitutional framework masquerading as secular but still taking its kickbacks from the Bible and the people who thump it. I do not engage with western institutions and notions of modernity because I think they are ideal, but because its what’s necessary to survive in the United States of America. I refuse to leave this country because in my mind colonization has pretty much wrecked the collective minds and memories of the global world to the point where the majority are all grindin to try and fit this framework which is finally crumbling in the western world. There really is nowhere else to go, and even if there was I refuse let this place fall to the descendants of dogs. My ancestors helped built this motherfucker, built a legacy of upward social mobility while still paying their dues to social justice, and I’ll be damned if I get run off simply because some foolish fucks wanna be a post-racial society that subsequently decimates its populations of color all over again.

Most importantly, I do not need the likes of white western feminism to have a fetishizing pity party on my behalf for simply being brown, modest, and religious. I made the choice to convert to Islam, made the choice to be modest and doing so didn’t invalidate my capability to make other choices. I didn’t loose the ability to speak for myself, which means I don’t need somebody who is unfamiliar with the intersections of my identities to take a Richard Burton voyage into the depths of my world and my soul only to come out with a more shallow understanding than they previously had in the first place.

I am just as verbose, crass, moderately unapologetic, cynical, and sarcastic as ever. I can speak for myself, yell for myself and rage for myself. I don’t need this body of scholarship to speak on my behalf and dissect my issues like an unsuspecting frog in a 6th grade science classroom. I need scholars like Fernea who think they are doing people like me a favor to take all of the seats. And if they need help finding one, maybe my poor little oppressed brown brain can muster up the mental faculties enough to line some up in an interesting formation so they feel as though they have a choice.   

hoax is a feminist collaborative zine attempting to find the connections between us despite our differences. it is co-edited by sari & rachel and kept alive by numerous contributors and people like you! feminists of all backgrounds & genders are encouraged to submit to this zine!

To order hoax 7 (where this article was first published) or back issues please visit their Etsy shop.

Rich, Islamist and post-feminist

by Rafia Zakaria

Rich, Islamist and post-feminist 

Their headscarves match their outfits perfectly, often held up by jewelled pins sporting emeralds, rubies and other precious stones. Their make-up is impeccable and a cloud of perfume follows them wherever they go. In the past few weeks of Ramazan, many have been chauffeured in their shiny sedans to taraveeh services held in venues usually reserved for weddings. Many afternoons have been spent at women-only sessions of Quranic tafseer. They follow a number of leaders, from the now internationally known Farhat Hashmi to other well-known sheikhs.

These women represent an interesting and relatively new phenomenon in the lives of Pakistan’s well to do. Demographically, they belong to the richest five percent of the country, the last section of the population to be affected by the ravages of a collapsing economy and decrepit civil institutions. Many if not all, come from families where women have been educated for generations and encouraged to pursue any opportunity that may suit their fancy. Their ranks therefore are full of doctors, lawyers, educators and the ubiquitous socialites.

Their children are often educated abroad, their husbands clean-shaven and their houses staffed with armies of servants. Like the coffee parties and social welfare melas of old, these tafseer sessions and taraveeh services have become venues of socialisation and cultural reorganisation. In this newly fashionable zeal for all things religious, these women, often plagued by the boredom that comes with affluence, seem to have found both direction and identity.

To most of these women, talk of the necessity of “liberating” Pakistani women seems redundant. First of all, the reality of those women who do not have the same weight of guilt to expunge from their conscience is remote to them. In other words, having been given the choice to embrace religious zealotry, it is difficult for them to imagine an alternative path to embracing elements of faith that give up female agency.

As clarification, consider this illustrative example: Rashida is a university professor who has taught at the engineering department of a private university for the past twenty years. Her children are grown and settled abroad. Her husband, a high level civil servant, had always given her the freedom to work, have her own friends, visit whomever she wants and even take frequent vacations abroad to visit her sisters in America. A highly educated man, who insisted on sending not just their son but also their daughter to be educated abroad, Rashida’s husband would balk at the idea of placing any sort of restrictions on his wife.

Yet, Rashida, since beginning the course with “madam” (as Farhat Hashmi’s adherents refer to her) has begun asking for his “permission” before leaving the home. She observes strict hijab before any unrelated males, including, somewhat embarrassingly, her own daughter’s husband who is over twenty-five years her junior.

The changes, albeit discomfiting to her family members, have been accepted readily by them, much like a new career or hobby that keeps Rashida satisfied and makes her less likely to pick fights with her husband or complain about the lack of attention from her children. Rashida often forces the household maid to attend tafseer sessions with her and has asked her to wear hijab (even though she is Christian!) before male servants and in front of Rashida’s husband and son. When asked about why she wears the hijab, Rashida will insist, truthfully so, that it is a choice made freely and without any pressure from her husband.

Rashida’s case is illustrative for a variety of reasons. First, it demonstrates the palliative nature of pietist movements like Farhat Hashmi’s, for women who, at crossroads in their lives (in this case, after the children have left home), may find themselves unsure of their identity and their place in society. Faith not only fills a much needed spiritual void but also a social one, providing new avenues of meeting people and a new purpose to life; all deeply admirable components.

What Rashida’s example also illustrates is the curious juxtaposition of post-feminist ideas in a society where women’s liberation never took the form of any coherent movement. In other words, Rashida’s case represents how a very small sliver of Pakistani women in the upper echelons of society, who have been insulated by class privilege from the laws and customs that target and persecute the remainder of Pakistani women, is now at the helm of denying the need for legal and sociological changes.

Women like Rashida are the face of the post-feminist Pakistani woman. Born in affluent homes and provided the same privileges as their brothers, they have often never experienced any form of legal discrimination or sexual harassment. The discriminatory weight of counting as a half-witness under Qanoon-e-Shahadat, or being legally entrusted to a male relative, of having to produce four witnesses in cases of rape, are all far away from their comfortable realities where religion is yet another item on a long menu of possible activities.

The women that are abducted, that are imprisoned under accusations of Zina, that are traded away in land disputes, are mere spectres in news stories. Theirs is a world of free choices garnered by class privileges. They take religion as a particular sheikh sells it to them, don hijabs and ask their husbands for permission to leave the home in an experiment with a new identity that may be adorned or shed at will. Indeed, there is no need for feminism in their world since subjugation, legal or otherwise, when freely chosen, represents no subjugation at all.

Instead, the cost of elite women’s experiment with Islamism is borne instead by those women whose agency and free will is ignored in this equation. Just as Rashida does not give a second thought to the relative fairness of requiring her maids of to attend tafseer sessions or wear hijab, the limits to the ability of religious awakening to question core problems in society is exposed. The ability of elite women to define whether or not Pakistan needs feminism is thus circumscribed by the fact that the battles feminism would have to fight have never been battles for them at all, but rather for those women who remain invisible as much because of their poverty as of their gender.

Rafia Zakaria is an attorney living in the United States where she teaches courses on Constitutional Law and Political Philosophy. She can be contacted at rafia.zakaria@gmail.com

Portrait of a Revolutionary: Hossam El-Hamalawy

Hossam El-Hamalawy speaks about the role of Labour/Unions in the Egyptian Revolution

Bassam [henceforth “B”]:  How are you?  Congratulations.

Hossam [henceforth “H”]:  Great.  Thank you!
B:  Can you tell us about the post-revolution situation?  There’s fear, hope, etc.  We’d like to hear from you personally, as someone who took part in the battle:  What’s going on?
H:  The war hasn’t ended.  The first battle of the revolution ended with Mubarak’s stepping down from power, but the revolution hasn’t been completed.  We now say that we entered the stage of the revolution. I would like in the beginning to inform your readers of certain facts so we can be clear about what happened in Egypt.  First, all the media now, even the government media, describe what’s happened in Egypt as a “youth revolution.”  Of course, I’ve never heard of a “seniors’ revolution” in any part of the world.  And it’s well-known that in any revolution of people of the world, those from the ages of 18 to 25 compose the segment of the population that is the most involved.   But describing the revolution as a “youth revolution also makes it vague and gives it a certain color something that has become fashionable  today, to give revolution a certain color, so there are orange, purple, jasmine revolutions and so on.  I believe that some people have tried to call our revolution the “lotus revolution,” an attempt that has failed utterly, thank God.

H:  OK.  All social classes in Egypt participated in the uprising from the first stages. Hosni Mubarak’s regime succeeded in creating a state of alienation between it and all the social classes, with no exceptions.    Even among the Egyptian elite except for those businessmen who surrounded HM, were relieved when he resigned. But what pushed Hosni Mubarak, or what pushed the armed forces to ask Hosni Mubarak to step down and give up power?  First, the battle between us and the authority when we were protesting in al- Tahrir began to turn into a battle of nerves, and a battle of waiting, and a battle of attrition:  who would wear out first? And at the same time, the government was staging something like a capital strike—not a labor strike—a capital strike.  In the first stage of the uprising, buildings were closed, shops, banks….  This was the government’s decision; it wasn’t our decision.  The protesters didn’t attack the banks.  We didn’t attack shops.  And in Egypt at that time it was the armed forces that imposed a curfew. What stopped life in Egypt was the army that imposed a curfew.  So the situation turned into a battle of waiting.  But what pushed matters in our favor and pushed Hosni Mubarak to realize OK, that he had to leave power, were the beginning of  labor strikes on the Wednesday and Thursday prior to the Friday he stepped down, when ‘Umar Sulayman announced that Hosni Mubarak had stepped down.  The entry of the working class as an independent social force with its independent general strikes, that’s what ended the regime of Hosni Mubarak.

We might ask, where were the workers at the beginning of the revolution?  The workers participated in the revolution from the beginning.  In areas of Suez, in areas like Mahallah, areas like Kafr el-Dawwar…these areas are working-class areas.  So when you hear that tens of thousands—and at times there were hundreds of thousands—of people protesting in these cities, I think it’s understood that the vast majority of them were workers.  But the workers were taking part in these demonstrations as demonstrators, not as workers.  They were not acting as a separate force.  Number one, because this was an uprising and all of them were there in the street; number two, because the government was staging a capital strike, so the workers weren’t congregating in factories because the whole time the workers were either in the street or in the popular committees that were protecting the neighborhoods.  But as soon as the government tried to restore “normal life” once again in Egypt in the week prior to the fall of Mubarak, the workers returned to their factories, returned to their companies, and began to talk to each other and discuss the country’s affairs.  And it was on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday that was the turning point.  The strikes began. The workers began to act as a social bloc.
OK, Hosni Mubarak stepped down on Friday.  Afterwards, the question arose:  “What next?”  Now there is a split within the ranks of the revolutionaries between the youth of the middle classes and their youth organizations, who announced their confidence in the armed forces, their opposition to the continuing rallies in al-Tahrir Square and announced that they were against the strikes, and called it class-based strikes, on the basis that those who are taking part in them were classes with limited interests that primarily concerned them and weren’t of concern to the rest of the classes in society, from their point of view.  There was a situation of hostility between the workers and middle class youth.
And this state of hostility is repeated by the Higher Council of the Armed Forces, which issued more than one statement prohibiting protesters, and its forces in Suez two days earlier arrested a group of workers and killed by mistake a number of protesters who were the relatives of workers, which led to an outbreak of clashes. The military police were used in some of the ministries, such as the Ministry of Agriculture today, for example, so as to disperse the masses of protesters on the pretext of protecting the ministries from being stormed by angry workers.  The army so far has not opened fire on the demonstrators and it hasn’t opened fire on striking workers.  But we are all holding our breath:  When will it happen?  None of us doubt the loyalty to the revolution of the soldiers and officers—the young officers.  However, the generals who rule Egypt right now, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, are Hosni Mubarak’s generals- he appointed them.  They are the generals who have provided support and have been the spine of Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship during his rule for the last thirty years.  The military institution is the institution that has ruled Egypt since ’52, so I don’t have any reason to trust the generals of the military council.  But the younger officers and soldiers and conscripts—they, in my opinion, are allies, not enemies.

Currently, the strikes, and after the fall of Mubarak, the social strikes are continuing.  There is no day in which you can open a newspaper and not find news about a sit-in or a strike or a labor demonstration, or about employees demonstrating somewhere.  The common demand in all of these strikes is first of all the prosecution of corruption and the dismissal of corrupt managers.  The second demand that is also common to all of these strikes is to make temporary workers permanent.  Egypt is one of the worst countries in the world in terms of labor rights and the government plays its games here the whole time in that most of the workers that we have here in Egypt don’t have contracts, all these work with temporary contract or on daily basis  for many long years. They have no social security. That is the second demand.

Another demand you see in most strikes is the formation of independent trade unions, because in Egypt we don’t have independent trade unions; we have something called the “Egyptian Trade Union Federation,” which is a governmental entity established by ‘Abd al-Nasser in ’57, and its job is to exert control over the working class, not to defend the labor movement.  In fact, the members of the Union are against strikes and always fight them, for the sake of the government.  It’s run by Hussein Migawar, one of the lords of corruption in the National Party.

But in Egypt, from the moment strikes broke out in 2006 some trade union successes. There were some achievements during the wave of strikes of the past five years.  Property tax collectors succeeded in establishing the first independent trade union in the history of the country in half a century in December 2008.

[Sound cuts out] …health technicians, who work on hospital machines here in Egypt, succeeded in establishing an independent trade union two months ago, and pensioners formed a union.  Those are the three independent labor associations that we’ve just gotten here in Egypt.  But we don’t have the kind of labor entity they have in Tunisia, like the Tunisian General Union of Labor, a trade union which was quasi-independent under the dictatorship of Ben Ali.  As soon as the revolution took place, the revolution provided the opportunity for bases for coordinated action. And they were able to mobilize the working class and to act in a unified way.  Here in Egypt we don’t have this kind of entity or anything like it, but it’s something that I and my colleagues on the left and a large number of labor organizations are now trying to build.
B:  You talk about the workers at the time coming in and demonstrating and striking on the Wednesday and Thursday before the fall of the regime.  Are there people who say, no, that’s merely an addition to what was already there, it didn’t itself lead to the fall of the regime?
H:  No, I mean, first, I am not trying to dishonor the efforts that were there in Tahrir.  I was one of those who was there in Tahrir.  This doesn’t mean that I’m saying that the intervention of workers on the political scene with the general strikes that they staged on Wednesday and Thursday before the Friday that Mubarak stepped down…when I say that I don’t mean that that was the sole factor.  The entry of the workers onto the battlefield was really an addition, but in my opinion, it was a decisive addition.  The whole time we were in Tahrir we could exert control over Tahrir, but we didn’t control the rest of the country.  Hosni Mubarak and his entourage were perhaps really complete and steadfast and they still held the battle-axe.  We couldn’t bend them.  But the general strikes on Wednesday and Thursday [sound breaks up].  Look, students could hold demonstrations for a full year and occupy their universities.  The government can close them down.  Judges could demonstrate in the streets and hold heroic demonstrations.  The government can close them—it has military courts.  If the journalists demonstrate, the government can shut down the newspapers.  But the workers, if they strike, it’s “game over.”  The game is over.  It’s finished, because the machine won’t work. There’s no money coming in.  No trains are moving. No buses are moving. No factories are working. No ships are moving. No ports are operating. It’s “game over”—finished.  The subject’s over.So, the intervention of labor was the decisive factor.  Of course, it wasn’t the only factor.

B:  When you say “decisive,” what is the thing that decided matters?  When you say “decisive,” did the army do something in particular that put pressure on Mubarak?  Decisive with respect to whom?
H:  Decisive for the Egyptian Revolution with the logic….
B:  Who made the decision that had the decisive reaction?
H:  In our situation, the army leadership intervened and asked Hosni Mubarak to step down and disappear from the political scene, because the army leadership, which was already beginning to control the country at that time, saw the regime crumbling.  And this was something Hosni Mubarak who was sitting holed up in his palace with Gamal Mubarak and his clique, this was something clearly that could not reach his sons at all, in addition to his great madness, as well as his pride and his hotheadedness.  But the army, which was more in touch with the scene on the street and how things were going, simply saw that Hosni Mubarak had to disappear or the regime was going to crumble.  That’s it, the country was no longer working.
B:  I’d like to talk about what happened afterward later.  But Hosni Mubarak was in the position that he would have to disappear.  Are you avoiding any talk about accountability….any type of accountability?  It’s as though he was put aside, and that was that.
H:  The chants in Tahrir, which began with “the people want the departure of the president” and “the people want the fall of the regime,” in the last days the people were shouting, “the people want the trial of the president,” “the people want the trials of the butcher” and “the people want the execution of the butcher.”

They were shouted together. We need to be clear about this. These were the slogans that came up again and again.  In the view of the vast majority of the Egyptian people, we don’t want Hosni Mubarak to leave the country.  We really want Hosni Mubarak to stay in the country.  We want him to answer for what he’s done over the last thirty years, and at the same time, to return the wealth that was looted and stolen from us.  The current estimates of Hosni Mubarak’s wealth range from 5 billion up to 70 billion dollars (according to varying figures).  We need to get this money back.  The Public Prosecutor, who we have to understand that he is also a part of the old regime, he’s a Public Prosecutor who was chosen by Hosni Mubarak, is under pressure now and waging a campaign to combat corruption.  This “fight against corruption” involves arresting former ministers, taking custody of their property, and arresting certain businessmen with close connections to Hosni Mubarak and the former regime in order to assuage public opinion, and at the same time to freeze their bank accounts and conduct investigations around them.  The family of the president have begun to come under scrutiny, and that’s under extreme pressure from the masses.

But we also have to understand that it will not do for the friends of Hosni Mubarak to try Hosni Mubarak.  That Public Prosecutor was put there by Hosni Mubarak.  The generals in the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces who are currently running the country—the situation is a part of the machinery of corruption present in Egypt.  Why should we think that the armed forces are the only arm of the state that is pure and has not been touched by any corruption during the last 30 years of Mubarak’s rule? ?  They are part of the machinery.

They are part of the regime.  I personally want to know how much money and wealth and financial assets Tantawi’s and the rest of the generals of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.  It’s my right as an Egyptian citizen to know this—it shouldn’t be a secret.  So I am not optimistic that the Egyptian people’s wealth will be returned so long as the current regime remains in power.

B:  What is your overall opinion, as an activist, journalist, writer, analyst, an Arab, an Egyptian, of what is going on in Bahrain, Yemen, and especially Libya?  Wednesday, 23rd February.

H:  Firstly, I am very, very proud that the efforts we made in Egypt on the way to toppling Hosni Mubarak inspired and was the source of the campaign of our brothers in neighboring Arab countries.  And the domino effect has even reached China.  I read a Reuters report that talks about arrests among the ranks of activists in China inspired the Arab revolution and the Egyptian revolution and the Tunisian revolution and their fighting spirit and now they want there to be a “Day of Rage” in China.
The revolution that’s underway right now in Libya and Bahrain and the demonstrations in Algeria and the demonstrations in Morocco calling for reform, and the demonstrations of our brothers in Yemen and the demonstrations in Jordan…all of these, in our opinion are demonstrations that give us hope.  The success of our revolution in Egypt, which is not yet finished, will be contingent upon the spread of this uprising, or the spread of this uprising through the region.  Every corrupt or client Arab regime in the region that fell, that, in our opinion, that was a step and a push forward.  Every defeat of any Arab revolution in the region, that is, in our opinion, is a defeat that pushes us backwards, for us in Egypt.  The Egyptian revolution in the condition of completeness will have the effect of an earthquake in the region.  America will lose its biggest ally, or the biggest client, to put it more accurately, in the Arab world:  The regime of Hosni Mubarak—and the post-Hosni Mubarak regime—which is the second-biggest recipient of foreign aid from the United States, after Israel. The army gets $1.3 billion every year from American taxpayers, and there’s $200,000 that used to go to the government under the rubric of economic aid.

If we succeed in removing the regime that is dependent on American aid, then we will start talking about:  One, a strong defense of the Palestinian revolution and our brothers in the Occupied Territories when they begin to rise up.  Secondly:  strong defense of our brothers in the rest of the Arab world that are also asking for an end to the dictatorships that are assisted by America.  If the countries that ring the Zionist entity were to fall into the hands of revolutions—I’m talking about Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, and Lebanon of course—these countries, if revolutions were to break out in them, if Israel was surrounded by countries in revolution, Israel will fall without a single shot fired.  People have to understand this.  American hegemony over the region that has been an impediment to development and growth in the region and an impediment to gaining our freedom, that hegemony will disappear.  For this reason, I shout in solidarity with all the Arab peoples that are rising up today, and wish them success.  They also are in solidarity with the Egyptian revolution; we share the same destiny.
B:  What is your opinion of what is going on in Libya, with respect to the use of airplanes to attack civilians and demonstrators.  Of course, I know your opinion, but what is your reaction as….

H:  A crime!  What’s happening in Libya is a crime!  All our lives we’ve  made fun of  Qaddafi and have said he’s crazy, he’s stupid, but what’s been going on there lately is a crime; there’s no other way to describe it. And I don’t think that any one of us thought that his madness and bloodthirstiness would reach the point where he would be attacking people with heavy weapons and airplanes.  At the same time, though, something that gives me hope is the disobedience seen now in the Libyan army.  There are airplanes going to Malta, refusing to fire on demonstrators.  Today another one of its planes was brought down because it refused to unleash bombs on the demonstrators.  All of these things give hope.  I really hope the Libyan revolutionaries are successful, and here in Egypt there is an activist campaign to show solidarity with the revolution in Libya and the rest of the Arab countries.

B:  How?  With Libya specifically?

H:  Egyptian activists have organized some demonstrations right now in front of the Libyan embassy in Cairo and in front of the Consulate in Alexandria.  There has also been a campaign to collect donations of food and medical supplies and to transport them to Salloum and bring them in from there.  There are now videos on YouTube of this assistance entering Libyan territory and being received by revolutionaries.  Right now Eastern Libyan is not under Qaddafi’s control; it’s under the control of the Libyan opposition.  The Libyan brothers, between them and me a blood connection.  We’re neighbors.  There were more than a million Egyptians residing and living in Libya.  And at the same time, we have common concerns, oppression, and dictatorship, so there’s nothing that will help us more than the action of Arab brothers.

B:  Thank you very much.  Do you think an end to American hegemony and the “domino effect” that will affect American hegemony and affect Israel—do you think this is something automatic, or is there a role that can be played by activists like yourself in Arab countries to drive these developments to this outcome?  Not just thinking that surrounding the dictators or the state of Israel or American hegemony will settle the matter, without action, of course serious action, but without deliberate action available with every means of oppression.  I’m asking about this because there is great optimism among at least those of us those of us who’ve been around for 40 years, when we think about this with respect to dictatorships, with respect to the apartheid system in Israel with American hegemony…but is the optimism automatic…?

H:  No, nothing is automatic, and nothing is inevitable.  If the revolution had been inevitable, or if success were assured, we would have gone home these last few years and waited in bed sleeping and not bothered to make a revolution, but no, the whole we’ve been organizing ourselves and have been staging interventions in the political sphere, the whole time, the activists’ role has been to agitate the masses to act, and to raise awareness among them.  I always say that if any truly democratic government comes to Egypt or any Arab country, the result will not be one that will please America or Israel.  The general feeling among most Arabs from the Ocean to the Gulf, are feelings that, number one, are hostile to America and its role in the region supporting dictatorships and around the world, its military presence in the region and its occupation of an Islamic country like Afghanistan or an Arab country like Iraq.  Second, the viewpoint toward Israel.  The great majority of the Arab people hate Israel.  They hate Israel, not out of hatred toward Jews, but out of hatred of its imperialist history and its atrocious crimes against the Palestinians.  So if we get a democratic, elected government, in a manner that is transparent, fair, and without any interference of any kind here in Egypt, this government will surely be hostile to Israel and hostile to America, or, more precisely, hostile to American imperialism and hostile to Zionism.  But the rise of the new revolutionary regime that we aspire to, this is not automatic.  First, if we are not well-organized; if we don’t know how to organize workers in factories into nation-wide networks, becoming trade unions capable of coordinating strikes; if we don’t know how to coordinate the workers’ and students’ movements; if we don’t know how to connect the political demands of the revolutionaries in Tahrir with the economic and social liberation demands of the workers and fellaheen in Cairo and the countryside; if we have a role in making these connections and we fail in that, the revolution will fail.  True, the revolution was spontaneous, but the organization and the activists’ role in it can’t be done away with.  This is what will differentiate us in the coming stage, the second stage of the revolution.

B:  Thank you very much Hossam, and we hope that you and your colleagues will succeed, especially since what’s happening is a dream.  I’d like to thank you for your time; maybe I took up a lot of your time, but we’ll speak again.  Good night, and I hope you wake up to revolution tomorrow!

H:  You too, in America!