Diaries of an Unfinished Revolution

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As revolution swept through the Arab world in spring of 2011, much of the writing that reached the West came via analysts and academics, experts and expats. We heard about Facebook posts and tweeted calls to action, but what was missing was testimony from on-the-ground participants—which is precisely what Layla Al-Zubaidi, Matthew Cassel and Nemonie Craven have brought together in Diaries of an Unfinished Revolution. These essays and profoundly moving, often harrowing, firsthand accounts span the region from Tunisia to Syria and include contributors ranging from student activists to seasoned journalists—half of whom are women. This unique collection explores just how deeply politics can be held within the personal and highlights the power of writing in a time of revolution.

“Diaries of an Unfinished Revolution” reviewed in the NYT.

Buy the book online.

Morsi’s supporters running out of options


Egypt’s coup in pictures — mobile viewers click here

Originally published on Al Jazeera English, 5 July 2013

Cairo, Egypt – “May peace and God’s mercy be upon you,” the worshippers said as they looked to the right, and then to the left, before rising to their feet and starting their protest.

“Down, down with the military government,” they roared as they spilled into the streets from mosques across Cairo, calling for the return of Mohamed Morsi to Egypt’s presidency.

They had been saying all week that they were willing to defend Morsi’s presidency with their blood, and today they did.

At least three people were killed when protesters confronted soldiers at a presidential guard barracks in the country’s capital.

Friday was not unlike the beginning of demonstrations on January 28, 2011, when worshippers finished the Friday prayer and joined together in their thousands to march and conquer Tahrir Square – where they stayed until Hosni Mubarak was forced from office.

But today their mission was different. Instead of removing someone from power, they wanted to return someone to it.

“We’re worried about our President Mohamed Morsi,” said Nadia Mustafa, after finishing prayers at al-Istiqama mosque in Giza. She, like many other Morsi supporters, denounced the “military coup” that ousted him on Wednesday, and said she would only accept his return to office.

Abdel Moneim Sharif, another protester, shared that sentiment: “We’re not going to [stop protesting] until Morsi is restored to president and democracy is restored to Egypt.”

But millions of Egyptians opposed to Morsi say his ousting was an act of democracy – as it was the military acting on the will of the people. Their nationwide protests, which began on Sunday to mark one year since Morsi took office, left the army with little choice but to intervene.

“This is the happiest day of my life,” said Salmana Abdel Shafi, as he walked through Tahrir on the morning after Morsi’s ousting. “Stability has been restored, and now we can get back to work and life.”

‘Guardian of legitimacy’

On Wednesday night, Morsi’s handpicked leader of the army, General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, read a statement in a televised address:

“As the armed forces cannot just turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to the movement and call of the Egyptian people, they have invoked their patriotic, and not political, role.”

Morsi “had failed to meet demands of the people”, and was therefore no longer president of the Arab world’s most populous nation”, said Sisi.

But it is that definition of “the people” over which both sides continue to disagree.

Morsi’s supporters echo their leader’s defiant eve-of-ousting speech, in which he referred to himself as the “guardian of legitimacy”, since he had won the country’s first free presidential elections in June 2012.

But opposition figures have said the numbers of protesters in the street is proof that Morsi had lost that legitimacy during his brief one year stint in office.

Gehad Haddad, a spokesperson for the Muslim Brotherhood that first put Morsi forth as its candidate, told Al Jazeera he was unsure if it was a majority of the country that opposed Morsi or not.

However, he said many of the country’s problems since Morsi took office were the fault of opposition politicians who refused to take part in the political process.

“You don’t denounce a president midterm because you don’t like what he’s doing,” Haddad said of the opposition.

“You have to man up to your responsibility to build new parties and show up for policy discussions instead of whining about it on TV.

“And they have the audacity to stand next to a military general as he’s doing his coup and say: ‘I’m backing the voice of the people.’

“I don’t think it was a majority represented in the street. I think it was a group of different segments that managed to agree on not wanting the president – rather than on wanting anything else.

“Imagine how they will split once they have the responsibility of [governing] and choices to make.”

Violence

Since Morsi’s ousting, the military has cracked down on his supporters, arresting hundreds, including some in the group’s top leadership. Morsi himself is detained, yet no-one outside the military seems to know where.

While many of Morsi’s supporters have spoken repeatedly about “the blood” they’re willing to put on the line to defend him, most Morsi supporters and military authorities alike have said that violence was something they would rather avoid.

On the road leading to Rabaa al-Adawiya, the military that has been present since Sisi’s announcement on Wednesday, pulled off to a side street to avoid standing in the way of the angry masses.

As protesters on Friday passed military and police installations around the city, some chanted slogans against them, and others threw projectiles, but the majority here shouted down acts of violence, while others formed human chains to prevent the sides from clashing.

It wasn’t until a breakaway march left Rabaa al-Adawiya and headed just a few kilometres away, to an outpost of the presidential guard, when the violence erupted.

Witnesses told Al Jazeera that one man had approached the building’s barbed wire fencing, holding a poster of Mohamed Morsi, when he was shot in the head by a soldier on the other side of the fence. He died moments later.

“He’s not even a Brotherhood member,” one man in tears shouted. “I know him, he’s only a good Muslim and they killed him.”

The army continued firing tear gas and birdshot, as military helicopter gunships circled above.

Other men approached the fence, one man carrying a flower, but it was clear they wouldn’t be able to challenge the well-trained officers on the other side.

Around Cairo, the Brotherhood’s critics have said the group remains well armed and could wage attacks against the state. They pointed to the border with Libya in the west, and to the Gaza Strip in the east as possible sources of more weaponry.

“Those Brotherhood members, they’re all armed,” one man in a cafe told others, as a pro-Morsi march passed nearby.

But many Morsi supporters told Al Jazeera they were firmly opposed to the idea of taking up weapons as a means to win back their power.

‘Back to the grassroots’

Outside the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque, the main site of ongoing pro-Morsi protests, men can be seem performing military-like drills, wearing construction hats and padded vests.

Haddad, the Brotherhood spokesperson, laughed when asked if they were meant to be threatening, and dismissed the notion that it was a sign of the group becoming militarised.

“It’s not even going to do anything against bullets, but at least it might deter thugs,” Haddad said.

The Muslim Brotherhood will only use peaceful means to challenge the military, he added.

“We’re going back to the grassroots and the source of real power – the people themselves,” Haddad said. “We’ll see where that takes us.”

But in Tahrir Square and elsewhere across the country, the anti-Morsi crowd has moved on.

They’re not concerned with a return of the Brotherhood. They know that the army, which produced more than six decades of Egypt’s leaders – each of whom waged their own crackdown on the group – is behind them.

Almost all of the journalists covering Friday’s pro-Morsi protests were reporting for foreign media.

One of the army’s first moves after taking power was to close Brotherhood-media outlets and other TV channels that were said to be pro-Morsi in their coverage.

So unless they followed the international press, social media, or attended the events themselves, most Egyptians will have little idea of the protests that took place today.

And with the military keeping tight control, it’s hard to see how the Brotherhood will be able to climb its way back into power any time soon.

Egypt elect’s a president

It was an historic moment in Egypt. More one year after the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak, many Egyptians took part in free elections to choose their next president. Below is a sampling of my coverage for Al Jazeera English just before, during and after the elections.

In pictures: Egypt’s colourful campaign:

image: Matthew Cassel

In pictures: Aboul Fotouh rallies support:

image: Matthew Cassel

In pictures: Brotherhood mobilises for Morsi:

image: Matthew Cassel

In pictures: Sabahi tours Cairo:

image: Matthew Cassel

The faces of Egypt’s voters:

image: Matthew Cassel

In Pictures: Voting in the Nile Delta

image: Matthew Cassel

Egypt election results spark angry protests:

image: Matthew Cassel

 

 

Bahrain: Revolution on walls

There is a consistent theme to most villages around Bahrain: their walls are all covered in anti-regime graffiti. Every night activists take their spray cans and practice one of the most common forms of public art around the world.

Most of the graffiti criticizes the government or calls for the downfall of the king of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, and the entire al-Khalifa regime. Much of the graffiti also references Pearl roundabout in the capital Manama, which was the epicenter of the protest movement earlier this year. In March, the roundabout along with its tall white Pearl monument, were destroyed by the government. Since then, protesters have called for a “return” to what they’ve renamed “Martyrs’ square” in honor of the more than 40 people killed since the uprising began in February.

The graffiti is hardly permanent and often changes depending on the political climate at any given time. Most mornings, security forces (many of them non-Bahrainis or recently naturalized citizens, which is why activists refer to them as “mercenaries”) erase as much as they can until activists again paint their messages. It’s a never-ending cycle. As long as the political battle for democracy remains at an impasse, expect Bahrain’s walls to remained covered.

These images taken in recent months, show a selection of some of the graffiti — written in Arabic and English — on walls in villages all over Bahrain.


Bahrain: Revolution on walls – Images by Matthew Cassel

Miami Model coming to Bahrain

I just returned from my second trip to Bahrain in recent months to hear the news that the ruling al-Khalifa family has hired former Miami police chief John Timoney to help “implement reforms.” Here are some pics of Timoney implementing reforms when he first put the “Miami Model” into practice against people protesting the Free Trade Area of the Americas in 2003 (For more read my comment piece, “Even Bahrain’s use of ‘Miami model’ policing will not stop the uprising,” published today in the Guardian’s Comment is Free):

Miami, 2003 (image: Matthew Cassel)


A protester injured in the head by a rubber bullet fired by Timoney's police force, Miami, 2003 (image: Matthew Cassel)

Mina Daniel

I couldn’t place Mina Daniel’s name when it was announced that the 25-year-old activist was killed by the Egyptian military along with more than two dozen others at a protest last month. But I did recognize his face when I read this Ahram Online piece on his death. His smiling face has been stuck in my head ever since.

Today, I found Mina’s picture in my archive and immediately remembered the circumstances in which we met. It was during the uprising in early February when police were attacking protesters near to the ministry of interior. I was in a makeshift hospital in a mosque near to Tahrir Square when Mina was carried in by his friends. If I remember correctly, he was injured from birdshot in his leg. The small wounds looked painful, especially as doctors went in to remove some of the pellets. But Mina, as you can see in the picture below, grabbed his friends hand for support and laughed surely knowing that the injury could not stop their revolution.

Mina Daniel, January 2011 (image: Matthew Cassel)

Palestinian refugees’ fight for freedom

The body of a Palestinian refugee from the Ein al-Helwe refugee camp, is carried uphill after he was killed by an Israeli soldier from across the border fence. (Image: Matthew Cassel)

Tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon risked their lives protesting at the border with Israel in south Lebanon on Sunday, ten were killed and hundreds were injured. They were calling for the right to returns that they were forced to flee 63 years ago. Sadly, this is one of the only English language articles you’ll read about it by someone who was there:

Palestinians in Lebanon, at the lonely end of the Arab uprisings
Matthew Cassel, Guardian’s Comment is Free

Climbing up the mountain to reach the Palestinian right-of-return protest in Maroun al-Ras in south Lebanon on Sunday felt a bit like being back in Tahrir Square.

The thousands of mostly Palestinian refugees were smiling as they joked about the strenuous climb, and helped each other up the mountain to reach the site where they were going to stage their demonstration. Some knew it could even be dangerous, but that didn’t matter as much as the rare opportunity to join together and call for their rights.

The small elevated Lebanese village just overlooking the border with Israel became a massive parking lot as buses carrying Palestinian refugees and Lebanese from across Lebanon converged for a protest commemorating what Israeli historian Ilan Pappé calls the “ethnic cleansing” by Zionist militias of more than 700,000 Palestinians from their lands and homes in 1948 – what Palestinians refer to as the “Nakba”, or catastrophe. [continued on the Guardian’s site]

UPDATE:

Here is a gallery of my images from the protest that day:


Refugees march to return – Images by Matthew Cassel

Yes or No?

Na’am willa la?” (Yes or no?) A child shouted at a group of us covering today’s referendum in the Imbaba neighborhood of Cairo. I shouted back, “I dont know, what about you?” He laughed at the Arabic-speaking foreigner with a strange Egyptian accent and ran off with his friends.

Today, more than a month after Hosni Mubarak was forced from office, Egyptians from across the country cast their vote — yes or no — in a referendum on proposed constitutional amendments. The vote has been actively debated from TV stations to street corners. Traveling around the city the past few nights I’ve seen groups of people at Tahrir Square and other public areas standing in small groups debating the referendum. Anyone can join the debate, or, if you’re just passing by and want to hear some differing views, you can easily listen in. Democracy at work, and for the time being everyone is taking part. (Read the Guardian’s report on the referendum for more.)

Of all the various polling stations around town, it was important for me to go to the Imbaba neighborhood today. It’s in Imbaba where I witnessed intense street battles between the people and the police on 28 January. People fought for hours against police armed with tear-gas and other weaponry until the demonstrators forced the police to retreat before marching on to Tahrir Square where numerous other marches from around the city converged. Imbaba is considered one of Cairo’s poorest neighborhoods, and it’s a telling sign of just how inclusive this revolutionary process is to see working class Egyptians from all backgrounds taking part.

28 January 2011:

On 28 January, demonstrators take position atop a building in the Imbaba neighborhood of Cairo during fierce battles with the police. (image: matthew cassel)

19 March 2011:

People wait for hours to cast their vote while a street vendor gets his hookah started (image:matthew cassel)


A voter shows off his marked hand in Imbaba (image: matthew cassel)


A voter in Imababa (image: matthew cassel)


One sign on a vendor's truck says "yes" to the referendum, and a female employee holds another sign reading "no." (image: matthew cassel)