Archive for January, 2012

The heady days of youthful uprising have been replaced by division and mistrust 

By Abdellatif Almenawy as published in the Times

When I visited Cairo at the end of last year, ten months had passed since the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak and his Government.

I caught a programme on the most popular of the new private TV channels that have sprung up.

The presenter was hosting a discussion between four guests. On the one side was a Coptic priest, a representative of the Egyptian evangelical church, on the other side was a Muslim Brother and a Salafist (an adherent to a strict interpretation of the Koran). The discussion was about whether the Copts should have to pay the Jizya tax, a historical charge levied on non-Muslims to live in a Muslim country, a relic that dates back to the early Muslim caliphate. The other matter up for debate was whether it was permitted in Islam for any Muslim to feel love for their Christian neighbours.

I saw a familiar panic on the faces of the Christian representatives on the programme. It reminded me of the concern drawn on the face of Pope Shenouda, the head of the Coptic church and good friend of mine, when I met him last March to discuss the state of the country.

The real concern is that these issues are being debated in public at all. These idle discussions are not what the uprising was about — but they could tear the country apart.

During those 18 days in February, we saw Muslims and Christians protecting each other and protesting together. But now the sectors and parties that make up Egyptian society are attacking each other and trust has broken down.

The political power that has really tasted the fruits of the uprising have not been the liberal forces that drove it but the Islamists, who gained more than two thirds of the seats in the recent parliamentary elections — the Muslim Brotherhood with 38 per cent, the hardline Al-Nour party with 29 per cent — not to mention that 20 per cent of winning candidates may side with the Islamists in a future government.

The revolutionary youth, who captured the hearts of viewers across the world last February, are not a unified power. They are split into more than 200 different groups, without a single power structure or mechanism to mobilise on the electoral front. Their challenge to the old order will not be able to succeed until they drop their differences and work together with other powers in Egypt. That includes, controversial as it may seem, the SCAF (the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces), which currently governs Egypt.

Though it is the subject of intense criticism and protest, the ruling SCAF cannot be taken out of the political equation. I never wanted the army to have such a role in political life, but things have changed. It is the only entity that has the power to change Egypt’s state institutions. They have publicly promised to hand over power in June. It is not feasible to demand that they step down before then, especially when far more than half of Egyptians support their position today.

In spite of the protests we have seen on our television screens over the last year, Egypt is not Cairo. Cairo is not Tahrir Square. Egypt is thousands of villages, towns and cities, a nation of 85 million people. Yet every Egyptian family has a tie, a special relationship, with the military through national service. The military has made mistakes, dire mistakes. But this does not mean that they are the enemy: they have carried the country through four major wars in the past 60 years.

Up to now, they have at least allowed a free and fair election, and the result has been respected, something that did not happen in the days of Mubarak. The co-operation between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood has been highlighted, but since the military assumed power, liberal and secular forces have refused to work with them as they no faith in the Armed Forces to run the state. This has left a vacuum in which the Muslim Brotherhood has taken advantage.

The talk in Cairo is that the co-operation between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military will lead us to the Turkish model. But this is a fallacy. Kamal Ataturk founded Turkey as a secular state in the 1920s. No major changes happened in Turkey until the 21st century, after 80 years of secularism. When they elected a party with an Islamist flavour, they maintained the secularity of the state. Egypt has never been through the Turkish experience. It was a shock to Islamists in Egypt when the Turkish Prime Minister announced: “A secular state respects all religions. Do not be wary of secularism. I hope there will be a secular state in Egypt.”

The future of Egypt is uncertain. I hope for the best in the long term but we will be severely tested as a nation in the meanwhile.

Abdel Latif El Menawy is a former head of news for Egyptian State Television. His book Tahrir: The Last 18 Days of Mubarak was published last week.


By Michael Binyon and James Hider
A year ago, he was the “Pharaoh” of Egypt, absolute ruler of 80 million souls. Yesterday, Hosni Mubarak was wheeled into a Cairo courthouse in the last leg of a trial in which he is fighting for his life, a life that was turned upside down by the Arab Spring.
Based on insider accounts, The Times can reveal exclusively the chaotic final hours of the deposed President’s 30-year rule, and the successive months of decline as he languished in a tiny hospital room.
At his side throughout the tumultuous events was his wife, Suzanne, the daughter of a Welsh nurse and an Egyptian surgeon who, at the crucial moment of her husband’s resignation, kept Egypt and the rest of the world waiting as she sobbed uncontrollably on the floor of the presidential villa, refusing to leave.
Mrs Mubarak had joined her two sons, Gamal and Alaa, in the helicopter to take them to internal exile in Sharm el-Sheikh on the day that her husband was forced out of office. But as the blades were whirring, she leapt out and ran back to the villa.
Impatient officials suspected that she may have forgotten her jewellery or a favourite dress. In fact, she had returned home and broken down. The guards who finally breached protocol and burst into the villa found her prostrate on the floor and inconsolable with grief, surrounded by the trinkets and records of her lifetime.
The final hours of the regime are dramatically outlined in a new book by the former head of Egyptian television, who played a key role in persuading Mr Mubarak to quit and in drafting his farewell speech.
Abdel Latif el-Menawy says that the guards had to pick up the President’s wife and carry her round the house, her tears staining their shoulders as she collected the few possessions she could not bear to part with.
“In her grief she kept repeating the same line, over and over, ‘… They had a reason …’ When she had composed herself enough, she turned to the guards and asked in a panic, ‘Do you think they can get in here? Please … don’t let them come here! Please, don’t let them destroy it, please. Look, you can stay here, stay in the villa … please, protect it!’”
All this time Mr el-Menawy was waiting in his office for the order to broadcast the tape that would announce the President’s resignation. “Though no one knew it at the time, the whole country was waiting for Suzanne Mubarak as she wept in her empty palace,” he says.
The final broadcast was chaotic. Mr Mubarak had decided that the brief statement should be read out by Omar Suleiman, the Vice-President, and this was agreed with Field Marshal Tantawi, head of the military council that was to take over.
There was no time to take Mr Suleiman to a TV studio. Instead a camera was set up in the corridor outside his office for him to read out the 37-second statement.
Mr el-Menawy reveals the mystery of the unknown figure standing awkwardly behind Mr Suleiman, thought by many at the time to be a shadowy powerbroker or intelligence officer. In fact, he was Mr Suleiman’s chief assistant, who had blundered into the shot by mistake. “It was unfortunate for the man — he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
As the crisis deepened over the 18 days after the revolt erupted on January 25, 2011, Mr Mubarak’s entourage was paralysed with indecision, Mr el-Menawy says.
As director of state television, he was constantly buffeted with conflicting commands from the Minister of Information, the military authorities, Mr Mubarak’s aides and especially his ambitious son Gamal. All wanted television to put out statements that bore no reality to the Government’s crumbling authority and the situation in Tahrir Square.
After two weeks of growing demonstrations, Mr el-Menawy realised that Mr Mubarak’s position was untenable. But no one dared to tell him. So Mr el-Menawy persuaded the top intelligence officers to get Anas el-Feky, the powerful Minister of Information whom Mr Mubarak treated as his third son, to make the ruling family aware of what was going on.
The intelligence officers talked for 90 minutes. Mr el-Menawy recalls: “One of them tried to encourage me, telling me that in the Koran Egypt is mentioned five times, whereas Mecca was mentioned just twice. He said that if God mentioned Egypt five times in the Koran, then he would protect it.
“This man, right at the highest level of the Egyptian Intelligence establishment, was telling me that they were waiting for a miracle. It certainly wasn’t the time for miracles any more.”
Mr el-Menawy went to Mr el-Feky’s office, told him that Mr Mubarak should go on air that day and began writing the speech the President should deliver.
Mr el-Feky took notes and then phoned Gamal, explaining the urgency of the situation. Mr el-Menawy insisted that the speech should be finished by 4pm.
The army then demanded that state television should broadcast “Statement No 1” — a clear indication that it was now putting pressure on the President. All of Egypt, including the demonstrators in Tahrir Square, were expecting a speech of resignation.
Thousands were outside the television building, chanting and protesting. Most of the staff had fled. It was after 10pm but there was still no sign of Mr Mubarak at the studio in the presidential palace. “To my complete consternation, Gamal seemed to be just dithering around in front of the camera. It was incredible. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Then they just disappeared.
“Mubarak finally strolled into the picture after 20 minutes, flanked by his two sons, his spokesman and Anas. He started reading, made mistakes, stopped and started again. They stopped him to adjust his tie and he then read the rest of the speech, shook hands and left.
“When it was over, I had a grim feeling in the pit of my stomach. This was the end. The speech was just awful — the worst speech he’d ever made in his life. It was arrogant. It was senseless. It was a disaster.”
Mr el-Menawy adds: “Immediately upon broadcast, protesters across the country began to vent their rage, screaming into the night sky.”
Gamal, it seemed, had edited the speech that his father was meant to read, omitting all talk of resignation. It was the final gamble in the “inheritance project” pushed by Gamal and his mother, so that he could succeed his father as President.
The next day the protests grew. Crowds were trying to break into the television station. Rumours circulated that Mr Mubarak was not in Cairo but in Sharm el-Sheikh or Saudi Arabia. Just before midday, an army spokesman called Mr el-Menawy to say that television should spread the word that Mr Mubarak was leaving.
Soon after that, Mr Mubarak took a helicopter to Sharm el-Sheikh. Before he left, Mr el-Menawy says, Mr Suleiman asked the President whether he needed to go anywhere abroad. “No,” he replied.
“I’ve done nothing wrong and I want to live in this country and I will live in this country for the rest of my life.”
He arrived in Sharm el-Sheikh, called Marshal Tantawi and told him that he was now in charge. But no word of this went out. Eventually the army spokesman arrived at the studio with a tape of the official resignation announcement — and not a word of it could be broadcast until Mrs Mubarak and her sons had left Cairo.
Mr el-Menawy played the tape to his staff. “Emotions were running high. Some of the staff in the studio were crying as they worked their machines. They had been overwhelmed with stress and suddenly, in 37 seconds, the entire weight had been lifted from their shoulders.”
The Mubarak era was over.
Sources close to the former President told The Times that when he arrived in the well-guarded hospital at Sharm el-Sheikh, the ousted dictator suffered from severe depression and spent much of his time simply watching taped football matches and avoiding news. He was extremely frail, and at one point suffered a minor heart attack.
Already recovering from an operation on a malignant tumour in his lower intestine, the 82-year-old grew ever weaker, barely eating or taking water, and refusing to leave his room, which had one tiny window.
At one point, his wife and one of his daughters-in-law found him apparently comatose. There were tears in his eyes. A doctor spoke to him for 30 minutes, recalling his moments of glory in his military past.
Eventually, the patient responded, stressing that he was the first Egyptian President ever to agree to leave office. “They told me to step down and I stepped down,” he said.
When he was flown back to Cairo for his court appearance in August he was wheeled in on a trolley, unable even to sit up for any length of time. He was not faking his condition, officials said. After several months in bed his muscles had wasted away.
Last week the prosecution called for the death sentence as punishment for allegedly ordering his troops to open fire on protesters.
End of an era
Oct 14, 1981 Hosni Mubarak is named Egyptian leader, eight days after the assassination of Anwar Sadat
June 26, 1995 He survives an assassination attempt, the first of six, when gunmen open fire on his motorcade at a summit in Ethiopia
Jan 25, 2011 Egyptians gather in cities across the nation to demand that he step down as President
Jan 28 The Government orders the Egyptian Army to quell protests but the military refuses to use violence
Feb 11 Mr Mubarak resigns and the Army takes control
April 12 Mr Mubarak appears before investigators on corruption charges. The following day he is detained for questioning over embezzled funds
May 24 He is ordered to stand trial on charges of killing protesters
Aug 3 The trial begins
Aug 15 The second hearing is held. Mr Mubarak arrives at a Cairo court in a hospital bed
Dec 28 The trial resumes after a long break due to procedural difficulties
Source: Times research

(This article was first published at the  The Times Middle East News)

By Michael Binyon

Egypt was for some 40 years counted one of the great successes of American foreign policy. When, in 1972, President Sadat expelled the Soviet military presence from his country and transferred allegiance to the United States, it marked a huge shift in the balance of superpower rivalry.
Yet evidence published in The Times today indicates that America’s subsequent investment of faith and financial support in the Egyptian leadership was misguided. The regime that eventually fell in 2011 had not only failed to secure popular consent and economic success: it was dysfunctional and led by a man medically unfit to discharge political office. It is a salutary case of the limits of a foreign policy supposedly based on a hard-headed assessment of interests to the exclusion of ideals.
In a new book, Abdel Latif el-Menawy, the former head of Egyptian state television, depicts the last days of the Mubarak autocracy. To describe it as chaos would be misleading only in that it would imply at least a succession of random events. It was more a case of institutional paralysis born of incomprehension of the state of the country and a political culture incapable of absorbing criticism. No one dared tell Mr Mubarak that he had to resign. When eventually the Vice-President announced the resignation, the broadcast was delayed because Mr Mubarak’s wife, stricken with grief, refused to leave the presidential palace.
The broadcast descended into farce owing to the inclusion in the camera shot of a junior official who viewers would have assumed was instrumental in the change in government. In fact, he was there only because no one told him to get out of the way. Mr Mubarak cut a pathetic figure: a despised autocrat rendered, by age and severe depression, incapable of exercising considered judgement, let alone effective power.
This was the leader whom the West had treated as an essential ally in the Middle East since he succeeded to power after Sadat’s assassination in 1981. Even on a limited assessment of costs and benefits, the advantage to the US of supporting Sadat and Mr Mubarak was limited and the favours dispensed in the process were great.
The US came to Egypt’s aid in the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Though Sadat had instigated the conflict, the Nixon Administration insisted that Israel halt its advance and agree to a ceasefire. Once Egypt had agreed a peace deal with Israel at Camp David in 1979, the US took on the role of Egypt’s patron, supplying aid and arms. Yet the US received little in return. And while Sadat’s decision to sign an accord was undoubtedly courageous, it was courage deployed to recover territory, not — as in Israel’s case — to give up land for peace.
Egypt under Mr Mubarak remained a closed and repressive society, which Western foreign policy neither sought to change nor greatly affected. The malevolent ideology of the Islamists perversely depicted Cairo as America’s supplicant. In reality, Mr Mubarak’s regime incubated theocratic fanaticism by ensuring that there was no outlet for dissent except through the mosque.
The consequences are evident in the halting progress of Egypt in the post-Mubarak era. The rights of minorities, such as the Coptic Christians, are threatened. Radical Islamist parties are burgeoning. Tolerating autocracy rather than pressing for democracy and defending human rights disinterestedly is a costly policy for the West. Its fruits are now being gathered.

(This article was first published at the Times )

Hello world!

Posted: January 1, 2012 in Uncategorized

Abd El-latif Elmenawy is an Author and Multimedia journalist who covered war zones and conflicts around the world. He is a member of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) in the United Kingdom and the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate.
Through his professional career in journalism, Elmenawy covered Bosnia during the war in 1994. He also reported from Sudan in 1989. Libya, Algeria, France, Hong Kong and Germany are also countries he reported on hot issues from. Elmenawy’s latest public position was President of Egypt’s News Center. Egypt News Center consists of Egypt News which produces news for Egyptian local television channels, Nile News which covers world news and Egypt’s for Arab audience, and Nile International which covers Egypt to international audience in three languages English French and Hebrew. He established Radio Misr which is the first themtic radio station that produces news in different light forms for radio listeners inside Egypt. Radio Misr mixed news with songs in a bid to increase listening ratings which made it very popular especially during the events of the 25th of January. Elmenawy held this position from 2005 till he resigned at the end of March 2011. During this period of time, he was responsible for all news coverage that comes out of the state television. He centralized news reporting in the Egyptian Radio and Television Union. Elmenawy extended coverage of political, economic and social events in the country to most of Egypt’s governorates. He opened the state television to the idea of covering all cities and towns in the country instead of covering Cairo as covering Egypt. Elmenawy worked on pushing reporters to take different angles when covering government activities. He introduced the concept of public television instead of state television through giving different political and social parties in Egypt a voice through the national television one way or the other and whenever possible. He pushed for increasing focus on daily sufferings of the Egyptian citizen. Elmenawy introduced feature reporting in a way to address such problems in society in a bid to avoid government censorship. He also established website reporting in State Television. He was responsible for establishing 3 main news websites Egypt news, Nile news and Nile International which has news in English, French and Hebrew. He moved the Hebrew transmission from Satellite to internet broadcast in a bid to reach Israeli citizens. He was responsible of the coverage of the referendum on the constitution in March 2011, parliament and Shura council election 2010 the presidential election in 2005, events of the 25th of January which this book covers .He introduced documentary making to Egypt News Center which won many awards. Elmenawy was one of the main current affairs programs’ presenters through 2001 to 2011. He hosted 3 famous programs “Third Opinion”, “Special Edition”, and “Point of View”. In these programs he interviewed local and international political figures. These public figures include, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zinawi, Eritrean President Isaisi Afewerki, President of South Sudan Silva Kiir, Late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, the then Arab league Secretary Amr Moussa, Former President Hosni Mubarak, , Former National Democratic Party Secretary for political committee Gamal Mubarak, and the then First Lady Suzan Mubarak. Other interviews include Sudanese President Omar Elbashir, former Sudanese president Elsadek Elmahdy and Libyan President Moamar Ghadafi. Elmenawy has a number of investigative documentaries and articles on Gamat Islamia.  Elmenawy also held the position of Managing Editor of Alsharq Alawsat in London, United Kingdom. He then moved to its office in Cairo, where he held the position of managing editor and headed the newspaper’s office in Cairo. Elmenawy is a renowned newspaper columnist. He wrote articles and opinion columns in Alahram newspaper and website, Alsharq Alawsat, Alahram Almasaay, in addition to Alahram Eleqtasady magazine. Elmenawy’s books focuses mostly on how the aspects of politics and Islam join. He is the author of “Copts, the church or the nation?” which defines the Copts role in the country. He also wrote “Raise the Ceiling” and “Unfinished Sentences” which views the Arab, Egyptian current political situation. Elmenawy is also the author of “Reformation of Gamat Islamia in Egypt, Witness to the Stop of Violence”. This book follows the steps of Gamat leaders to change its direction away from violence. His next project in writing is a book on Aljihad group through interviews with its leaders inside and outside of prison.
Elmenawy has special interest in political Islam and Arab affairs especially Sudan and Libya. He was interviewed in different Arab Satellite channels as an expert in Arab politics.  He won many awards:
Best Print Interview in 1989 on a number of interviews in “Almegalah” magazine.
The Committee Award at the Television and Radio Cairo Festival in 1998 on the documentary “Egypt and Syria Union”.
Best Interview in 1986on the first interview with former Sudanese President Gafar Nomiri.
The Committee Award for Best Television Interview at the Television and Radio Cairo Festival in 2001 on the program “Third Opinion”.
Elmenawy was born in the city of Damietta, Egypt in 1960. He graduated from the Faculty of Mass communication at Cairo University majoring in Journalism in 1982.