January 19, 2012

In memory of martyr Ziad Bakir - Democracy, democracy, democracy

Is it almost a year already? Is it almost a year that Ziad Bakir left the house in Cairo to join the Egyptian revolution?

When Ziad went out on January 28 to be peacefully part of the quest for a new, free Egypt, he had no idea how murderous the regime was going to react. But when the day came to an end, he never returned.

Now that almost a year has passed, you might think the memory of all this has faded, the sadness of those, who loved him dearly, has passed on to bearability. It hasn‘t. „When you lose someone you love, 20 years are nothing“, a woman in a documentary said the other day who had lost relatives in a plane crash in 1979. - Twenty years is nothing. And a year? - So much less.

Did it really happen, this year? Or did all this happen only yesterday? For the relatives this question comes up again and again with no satisfactory answer.

Ziad Bakir was no revolutionary. He was an artist, a fine artist in his trade, heading the design department an the Cairo Opera House. His posters for performances were stunning in layout and colour, creative in their combination of text, photo and colour schemes, and art in itself. Even if you should have known that the event was going to be of poor quality, Ziad‘s posters were so brilliantly arranged and alive that they compelled you to visit the performance. What better quality could such a poster have? The Cairo Opera House was and could be proud of having him as their chief designer.

When Ziad went out into the streets of Cairo on that January 28 he had no rocks with him, no molotov cocktails, no weapons - just a perception of a dream: that Egypt - his Egypt he loved - would become free of tyrannical rule, would allow freedom of speech and secure democracy. For in his family these were values he and his sister and brother had been taught, with early contacts to other cultures and languages of the world. All this documented itself in his multicoloured, multicultural wonderful designs. And the soft-spoken, kindhearted father of three went out to see for himself if this dream of Egypt could peacefully come true.

The rest is bitter history. One day only, one single day turned everything upside down. When Ziad did not return even late at night, his family started to get worried. His sister, who was studying art in Europe and who had spoken with him again and again on the phone about the revolution of Egypt and what it could mean to the country, was deeply disturbed and immediately interrupted her studies and booked a flight home. When she arrived on January 31, Ziad had still not been found.

For weeks the family searched all possible places in Cairo, and while the revolution went on in Tahrir, where sister Mirette often could be seen with a photo of Ziad and her hopeful look, someone could recognize him and have some information about him, while Mubarak finally stepped down to the cheers of the Egyptian people - the fear grew in the hearts of those that loved him that he might perhaps never return. Yet, no one was willing to give up on him. His brother and cousin tirelessly searched the morgues and hospitals, his sister organized the media, giving interview after interview to the local and foreign press, hoping someone out there seeing it would have some news on Ziad.

Five long weeks

But the only news they kept getting was devastating in itself. Calls from unknown callers stating they knew where Ziad is, or saying they saw him only days ago in a prison in Sinai - or quite bluntly threatening the family that Ziad would never return alive if they did not stop talking to the press about him.

Undoubtedly the crooks of Amn El Dawla, of Mubarak‘s hated riot police or the despised former ruling party NDP thought it appropriate to torture the family even more. As if the desperate search for their son and brother day in and day out was not hard enough to bear.

Five weeks after Ziad had disappeared, a phone call from a trusted source came to say that a body was seen in Zenhom morgue that could be him. The family was in doubt, for his brother and cousin had been in Zenhom morgue many, many times in those five weeks, they had seen unbelievable scenes and unaccounted bodies, yet never a body that resembled him. But when they went to inspect, the hopes of finding Ziad alive, sitting perhaps in some godforsaken military prison in Egypt, was shattered. With all difficulties of identification, it was in the end to be taken that Ziad Bakir had been found. And his bullet wounds clearly showed that he had been killed by snipers from rooftops.

It is not wise to go back to every detail of those horrible days when he was found and finally buried on March 13. Why open all the wounds once more? A huge funeral was held at Omar Makram mosque next to Tahrir square, only a few meters away from the spot where Ziad had last been seen on that fateful January 28. Many had come to pay their respect: family and friends and many of his colleagues from the Cairo Opera House. Grieving, they parted from a man they had held close to their hearts for so many years and had now to let go.

Ziad Bakir died at the age of 37. A father of three wonderful children, a gifted, talented, friendly character who never found pleasure in hurting. Those who killed him from the rooftops of Cairo had no idea what they destroyed. To them he was nothing. To his family and friends he was a world.

A memorial exhibition

Only those who are forgotten, have truly died, a saying goes. And if this is so, then Ziad has never left. A moving eulogy was published by one of his colleagues, many memorials were held both in and out of Cairo Opera House, and now, that almost a year has passed and after seven months of intense preparation by his family and friends, a wonderful exhibition has opened in his memory at Hanager Arts Center on the Cairo Opera House grounds in Zamalek, showing for a fortnight his impressive posters and designs and making it once more possible to be captivated by his spirited, lively yet soft-treading talent. As if he was still with us, as if he was still alive. And when the people pass through the exhibition, marveling at the flow of movements and colours, his almost shy, humble smile will undoubtedly accompany them. Ziad is speaking to them through his art and many might be sorry that the performances, for which he once so compellingly advertised, are long over. Seeing the posters, one might yet be inclined to buy tickets. He artistically tempts us to the day.

The Ziad that left on January 28 might have been empty handed. But the Ziad that is remembered had a heart full of passion, of light and of dreams. It is art‘s privilege after all to see light where others see nothing, and a revolution also relies on dreamers if it wants to succeed. Life is nothing without art. Love is nothing without the belief in light. If all come together, the chances are good something new and valuable for the world is born.

The legacy

When hopes were still held up that Ziad could be alive in some military prison somewhere and would one day return to his family, his father, Mohamed Bakir, in an interview with the BBC was unmistakably clear about what was needed for the future of Egypt: „Democracy, democracy, democracy.“

His words to this day ring in my ear.

No, there is no sense in a killing, and nothing that comes can make it seem justifiable that Ziad Bakir, as so many others, lost his life. But if there is any legacy to be found in his death, let this be it - the ongoing responsibility to allow it to happen in Egypt: Democracy, democracy, democracy.

Only then will there be a chance for the family to come to rest. Only then will Egypt manage to bear the loss of its sons and daughters that were so ruthlessly torn from their lives. Harming nobody, chanting with joy and marching peacefully to their unexpected death, so Egypt could live.


Exhibition of works by martyr Ziad Bakir
18 January - 31 January
Hanager Art Center exhibition hall at the Cairo Opera House grounds

January 14, 2012

MB & SCAF? - Wait for the surprise

Today presidential candidate El Baradei declared the end to his campaign complaining that with SCAF the old regime was still in power. Ayman Nour, another presidential candidate for the liberal side, also declared not to run for office anymore. With two hopefuls resigning from the presidential race the nerves of liberal revolutionaries in Egypt are on edge and conspiracy theories and rumours about a deal struck between the Muslim Brotherhood and SCAF abound on the internet. Quelle surprise, the French would say. But wait - you might be in for a surprise you had not thought of.

The fact that the Muslim Brotherhood held several talks with the Supreme Council of Armed Forces running Egypt under military rule is to many an indication that a deal was made between the two how to divide power amongst them. Fact is - not only the Muslim Brotherhood held talks with the army generals, practically all important parties in Egypt did. Fact is too - the Muslim Brotherhood has secured almost half of the votes for parliament in the elections and both - MB and SCAF - know what kind of power that means.

Declarations from some MB members regarding the army, regarding even giving impunity to the army for killing of protesters, seems to show that the MB is taking sides with SCAF. When clashes killed 43 protesters around Tahrir and Mohamed Mahmoud street in November, the MB was strikingly silent and did not join in the protests defending the peoples rights. This too is taken as a sign that the MB was siding with SCAF. What is overlooked however is that only days prior to that the MB held a huge "Friday anger" rally in Tahrir demonstrating with all might the power it feels it has with half of the population behind it. That was a clear sign send to the generals to beware and to take the MB very seriously. - You do not send signs like this if you take sides.

What the Muslim Brotherhood in the wake of the clashes clearly did not want, was for the generals to get the impression that the MB was part of the protesting revolution attacking the state. Even more, the MB wanted at no costs that the majority of the population - the so called silent majority - too would think the MB was part of what many (thanks to Maspero and SCAF) called thuggery and chaos spreading. To them the MB was supposed to be the nonviolent strong power in the storm the people could look up to in these times of trouble. Almost 46% of the votes in the past election proved the tactic of the Muslim Brotherhood right. They got what they wanted - almost half of the parliamentary seats - because they stayed away from the uprisings and only spoke up when it was in their favour.

You can call this cowardly, hypocritical, dishonest, unethical, deplorable, disgusting and much more - but to make it short, just use the one term that is commonly associated with this - it's politics.

Yes, what the Muslim Brotherhood did was playing politics to gain power. Quelle surprise.

Regarding the fact that more than 900 brave and mostly young Egyptians lost their lives in and for this revolution, playing politics as coldly as the MB did can be regarded as having a sickening aspect to it. And many activists loudly voice their disgust at this behaviour.

But just for a moment try to change sides and look at it from the point of view of the MB.

They had been banned, threatened, arrested and killed in Egypt for decades under dictatorial rule. Now for the first time thanks to a revolution they at least in part participated in, they were allowed to stand for parliament. Nothing in the world could and would stop them from trying to gain a victory that would make banning them again forever impossible. To ensure their survival, the members of the MB practically had no choice but to play it cool, be utmost tactical in the way they went about and foremost see to it that they would not get into heavy conflict with the military that has basically - no matter what president was on top - ruled this country with an iron fist for so many decades. If MB got into serious clashes with SCAF, they might have gotten even for the many human rights violations they had endured in the past. But it would have endangered their chance to come out of the elections as the strongest force. And only if they could do that would they be able to face up to what has practically been their enemy now for almost 60 years.

It is thinking too short to suddenly invent a big partnership between MB and SCAF ignoring the fact that they are not friends and have no mutual interests at all. True - both want power. But that exactly is what cannot be achieved easily. The MB knows very well what power to the military means. They have lost more than one of their members because of it and they will not trust SCAF one bit. SCAF on the other side knows this too, fears the power the MB has gained now and hopes for any chance to keep their head above water. Had the MB actively taken part in many of the bloody clashes in Tahrir and around it would not have fared so well in the elections, the silent majority of Egypt would not have given them the mandate to be strong in parliamentary politics. Then what? How would the MB then have had a chance to step and speak up to SCAF?

Yes, call it disgusting from your point of view. That is more than understandable. But in politics when it comes to ensuring your survival - and especially in overthrowing a military dictatorship - emotions are just not enough to succeed. It needs careful, cold-blooded calculation and tactical approach to win. And the MB showed perfectly how to play the game. Their win at the elections not only proved them right, it also gave them the power now to stand up to the military in handing over power. And if their political views would not collide with those of many of the revolutionary youths, perhaps revolutionaries would not even be so appalled but silently applaud the coup to achieve a strong position to counter SCAF.

I would be much surprised if the Muslim Brotherhood - after securing parliament and presidency - would not start to play a tune the generals of the SCAF will not like. It might be that part of the tune will also not be to the liking of liberal Egyptians. But if any tune is going to have a chance to put the army back where it belongs, it must be one of strength and power. Only the MB with their overwhelming victory at the polls will be able to play that tune. And they will play it. Because there are a lot of atrocities at the hand of the military in the last bitter decades for them to remember.

Fact is, you don't have to like them for their political views. Hate them even for playing politics to win. But I would not want to be in the shoes of the generals if in the end the MB has the power. It's SCAF more than Egypt at the moment that has to beware. Don't fall for the trap that MB and SCAF are one hand. They never have been and I don't think they ever can be.


January 10, 2012

Why Amr El-Beheiry is not yet free

When Amr El-Beheiry was arrested by military forces on February 26, 2011, there were enough witnesses to prove that he had done nothing wrong when participating in a protest in Tahrir square. But when he was tried in military court only days later, no witnesses were heard, no lawyer was present - Amr was sentenced in breach of all international judicial regulations within minutes to five years in prison. And that's where he went. Only afterwards did his brother find out that Amr had been damned by a military court that did not care for his innocence or the truth and willfully had crushed his freedom, destroying Amr's life.

For Egyptian blogger and activist Mona Seif, who with her mother had been present at Tahrir when Amr was arrested, this was the moment that sparked the campaign "No military trials for civilians" that rose quickly to become one of the strongest movements in post-revolutionary Egypt. Not because of the huge number of members but because of the hardheaded determination of those - at first mainly female - activists that supported and fought for the cause, often risking themselves to be arrested by the military.

In August Amr's lawyer finally managed to get an appeal date accepted - May 1st, 2012. That was outrageous, as Amr would have spent 15 months in jail until then without any chance to get his case retried. The date was protested, changed and then finally set on today, January 10.

This afternoon the military court, after hearing the case, accepted Amr El-Beheiry's appeal and lifted the sentence of 5 years, ordering for him to be retried.

A ray of hope that Amr and his family and all those who supported him in the last ten months had been waiting for so eagerly. But - alas - at the moment it is only a ray of hope, not yet more.

For the court ordered the retrial to be - in front of a military court. Just where Amr had been unjustly sentenced to 5 years in jail before.

It is not hard to imagine what this can mean with regard to justice not being served. In the case of the blogger Maikel Nabil, who had been sentenced to 3 years in prison and in his appeal finally got his sentence lifted, it meant no justice. He was retried by a military court and received a new sentence to 2 years in prison. No freedom was given to him, the whole judicial act seemed nothing less but a farce.

For Amr, whose innocence is beyond doubt to anyone who is not blinded by SCAF's ranting against protesters, the acceptance of his appeal and lifting of the initial sentence can mean just the same: another trial in front of military court with a sentence now perhaps 'only' 3 years instead of five. It would mean the continued injustice for a young Egyptian who should never have been in jail in the first place.

As uplifting as today's appeal decision therefore seems to be - Amr is not yet free, and the decision of today will also not automatically guarantee his freedom unless huge pressure is put on the SCAF generals in public to finally let Amr go.

This the military court could of course do either by setting him free and declaring him innocent - a huge step to take for generals who constantly fear to lose their face - or the court could make a ruling, letting Amr go free with a mild sentence that is suspended. The military court has decided like this in numerous cases of arrested Tahrir protesters before. The chances for this happening are not all together slim. It would therefore be vital to push and pressure the case of Amr El-Beheiry and the demand for his ultimate freedom now with all force wherever possible in the hope that the military court will make a positive move in the right direction.

What should be done though even more is reminding the generals of SCAF that they have made a promise in one of their statements last fall that they would stop all military trials of civilians. After all - that is what the brilliant campaign of Mona Seif and her co-activists in Cairo and Alexandria have been demanding for months. And SCAF had said to align itself with this demand and did indeed forward several cases from the military judiciary to civilian courts.

If it could be achieved that Amr's case is transferred from the military to a civilian court his lawyers would have much better chances of introducing witnesses, producing evidence and affidavits and generally speak up in his favour. Then - and perhaps only then - Amr El-Beheiry stands a chance of getting a sentence that is just and fair setting him finally free after an ordeal of 10 gruesome months in jail that were accompanied with lots of hardship.

Many have spoken up for Amr El-Beheiry during his unlawful imprisonment which made it possible for his appeal today to be accepted. But many more voices are needed now in full force to get his case transferred where it belongs - to a civilian court, where his rights will hopefully be respected and his case could be heard without prejudice.

So please raise your voice in the next days and weeks for Amr El-Beheiry and campaign for him as fiercely as you did for Alaa or Maikel or the other thousand of innocently arrested who have been rotting in jail because of military quick-trials, without justice being served. Amr was arrested on February 26 - only 15 days after Mubarak stepped down. What share did he have so far in the revolution he helped to create?

It is about time that Amr El-Beheiry finally gets a chance to enjoy the freedom the revolution fought for. 10 months late - but never too late.



This is how you can help to get Amr‘s case transferred to a civilian court and hopefully get him free:

1.    Got to the official SCAF facebook page - chose the newest statement at the top and type a comment underneath it. If you can, do it in Arabic, as the generals are poor in understanding English. But otherwise you might want to write something like this:
“Amr El-Beheiry was unjustly sentenced to 5 years imprisonment by military court on March 1, 2011, although he was innocent. On January 10, 2012, his appeal was accepted and the sentence was lifted after 10 long months in jail. He is now to be retried.

Amr El-Beheiry is a civlian who should never be tried in a military court! Please ensure that his retrial will be in front of a civilian court as was promised by SCAF last year! Or set him free for he is not guilty of the charges and there are many witnesses that can testify to his innocence. Amr El-Beheiry should never have had to spend 10 months in jail! It is now the time to give him the freedom he deserves!“

2.    Write “Free Amr El-Beheiry“ in Arabic on a big piece of paper or cardboard and paste it from the inside of your car against a window, so everyone can see it when you drive through the city.

Or print one of the pics that you can find on his facebook page.

3.    Check with the “No military trials for civilians“ campaign at @nomiltrials on twitter or their homepage to join in further actions coming up.

Join in marches to show SCAF that the fate of Amr El-Beheiry and his demand for freedom is not forgotten.