On the night of July 3, exactly 48 hours after General Abdul Fatah Sisi of the Special Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) gave President Morsi an ultimatum—either he listen to the demands of the protesters, or he resigns and the SCAF assumes an interim leadership—President Mohamed Morsi was ousted from power. The army took over the leadership and high profile Muslim Brotherhood officials—including the former president—were arrested. For better or worse, Egypt is once again in democratic transition.
Judging from Twitter, Egypt is in complete chaos.
Online, protesters in the square tweeted pictures of a Tahrir Square that resembled the first, triumphant images of the Arab Spring and shared updates as the news broke. Initiatives such as Tahrir Bodyguard and Operation Anti Sexual Harassment, which formed in response to the rampant sexual assault that characterized the anti-Mubarak uprising, shared phone numbers for hotlines and how to intervene as a bystander if one were to witness a potential assault.
On Sunday, 35 militants attacked a border post with automatic gunfire and grenades in the Sinai Peninsula—killing 16 Egyptian soldiers, and injuring seven others. After attacking the soldiers, the militants hijacked two Israeli armored tanks, which were then destroyed—one exploding, and the other targeted by Israeli fire—killing eight of the militants as they tried to infiltrate the Israeli border.
It is suspected that the militants are Islamist and Salafi jihadists from Gaza and Sinai—though their exact identities are still unknown. Certain sources claim that the militants hijacked the armored vehicles to abduct an Israeli soldier. Some claim that the smuggling operations between besieged Gaza and Sinai are the structural cause for frequent bouts of regional violence. Still others claim that the militants were deliberately trying to incite war between Egypt and Israel.
If someone were to have a heart attack in Gaza, the ambulances might not come. Due to the current fuel crisis in Gaza, one third of the ambulances have completely run out of fuel—the other two-thirds are relying solely on the fuel in their tanks.
Over the past year, Gazans have routinely smuggled fuel in from Egypt through underground tunnels that run between the two countries. These tunnels have long served as an economic lifeline for Gaza, importing black-market goods that would be otherwise banned due Israel’s blockade on Gaza—a blockade that bans the import of “anything that could be construed as a weapon.” On this list is everything ranging from pipes—making repairing factories and sewage treatment plants difficult, fertilizer—which makes farming and food production difficult, and of course, diesel and petrol.
On Friday, the headlines read that Tahrir Square was burning.
Soldiers and military police raided the square in an unprecedented bout of violence and brutality, firing weapons and using batons and teargas to chase protesters, burning blankets, tents, medical supplies, and anything else that stood in their way. Thirteen people have been killed and over 400 wounded in a series of violent assaults that eventually forced the protesters to leave and decimated Tahrir Square.
Now, five days later, Tahrir Square has burned and all that remains are the scattered remains of charred tents, blood stains on the pavement, and an imposing line of military police encircling the square to ensure that above all else, it is not reoccupied.
One of the most reliable truisms in international relations is that military governments are not, by definition, democratizing ones. They are self-serving. When their interests coincide with those of the masses, as they have in moments of Egypt’s history, it is easy to lose sight of this.
When Hosni Mubarak resigned on February 11, Egyptians celebrated a crucial and unprecedented victory. But what international journalists and observers often failed to acknowledge was that Egyptians had toppled a dictator, but they had not toppled a regime.
Commentators again and again echoed the simplistic idea that Egyptians enjoy some sort of special “close relationship” with the Egyptian military. With the notable exception of Anderson Cooper, many mainstream reporters completely ignored the fact that military governance is a risky business unlikely to yield a transparent democratic transition.
One of the most striking and moving images from the Egyptian Revolution was a line of Coptic Christians, linking arms and protecting the Muslims from the military police during their call to prayer. On Sunday, many Muslims joined thousands of Christians to march against last week’s violent attack on a Coptic Church in the southern town of Aswan—a telling symbol of the systematic, institutionalized racism against the Coptic minority in Egypt.
Egyptians watched in shock and horror as the peaceful march of 10,000 Egyptians—many united in religious solidarity–became a violent confrontation with the military police, escalating into a massacre brutally killing at least twenty-six and leaving over five hundred injured.
In February, the world watched in awe as Egyptians converged on Cairo’s Tahrir Square to peacefully overthrow the autocratic regime of Hosni Mubarak. The previous overthrow of Ben Ali in Tunisia had made foreign policy experts take notice, but when Egypt followed, analysts breathlessly echoed the truism that Egypt’s precedent-setting status in the Middle East would remake the region. The peaceful overthrow of Mubarak certainly stoked the public imagination and inspired protests throughout the region.
Protests have become the order of the day in Israel, Lebanon, Yemen and elsewhere, but autocratic leaders are pushing hard against change. The Syrian army escalated its war against civilians today. Ongoing international meddling in the Libyan conflict seems as unlikely as ever to usher peace. And despite little attention from international media, atrocities in Bahrain continue. Just a little over six months after the Egyptian ouster of Mubarak, it is clear that Egypt changed things, though it is impossible to make any generalizations about that change or predict what is to come.
One of the most under-reported factors behind the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt was the rise in food prices in the Middle East over the last year. It’s simple, really: hungry people become desperate very quickly, yet governments and markets forget this simple lesson all too frequently. A new report from Oxfam details the looming crisis, predicting even greater unrest for the future. They estimate that worldwide water demand will increase 30% by 2030, and by 2050, “there will be 9 billion people on the planet and demand for food will have increased by 70 per cent.”
In February, the President of the World Bank Robert Zoellick said on Bloomberg television, that “there’s no doubt that we’re seeing rising food prices just as we saw a couple of years ago and it puts stress on the most vulnerable. People often in developing countries spend half or three quarters of their income in food, so they’ve got little margin.” For people in wealthy countries, the rise in food prices may be more easily absorbed. Yet even in those, there may be significant food insecurity–the United States reported a record 14.6% of households experienced some form of food insecurity in 2008.
May 15th marks the simultaneous anniversary of the creation of the state of Israel, and the mass expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinians from their land. While Israelis celebrate their independence day, Palestinians and Palestine sympathizers mourn and commemorate what has come to be known as, “Al Nakba” or “The Catastrophe.”
The Nakba was not simply one event, but a sixty-three year process of continuous loss. What was once the tragic image of a depleted Palestine immediately after the Nakba is now the idealized 1967 border lines symbolizing “peace” and a successfully implemented two-state solution.
On May 15th, Palestinians and activists from around the world traditionally rally in front of Israeli embassies and other politically significant monuments or gathering places, recognizing Al Nakba and demanding an end to the occupation and the right of return for all displaced Palestinian refugees. Despite the noticeable shift in public opinion in favor of Palestine and the increasing common knowledge that many Israeli policies explicitly and repeatedly violate international law, little has changed in terms of foreign policy or political practice.
Is this year different?