Lawlessness Rampant in Egypt

Friday, 11 Mar 2011 10:29 AM

By Arnaud de Borchgrave

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The pundits were still celebrating the liberation of Egypt from 60 years of Pharaonic rule when the news no one wanted to believe began filtering back.

Censorship by omission is in vogue again because of a reluctance, bordering on paralysis, to recognize there is no law and no order. Samples:
  • There are no police on the streets — and no security.
  • Roadblocks have been set up — by thugs to steal valuables.
  • State security offices in five cities were broken into on the same day at the same hour. Their staffs were bad enough but no security was even worse.
  • All former security personnel are now guilty until (maybe) proven innocent.
  • New ministers are talking up sequestration as the economy continues to shrink.
  • Higher taxes, central planning and state socialism a la Nasser are back in vogue.
  • Lawlessness, not lack of tourists, persuaded six leading operators in the tourist sector to close shop.
The Egyptian State Security headquarters in Cairo's Nasr City is a maze that goes down eight floors, replete with prison cells and torture rooms with metal prods and electric transformers and filing cabinets.

In their panic to escape the wrath of the population, security personnel torched their own files before fleeing. But thousands of fragments were collected for future prosecution.

Tapes of screams and dogs barking were played as if coming from adjoining cells to frighten prisoners to confess.

Torture wasn't the exclusive domain of Hosni Mubarak's 30 years in power. It was also common security practice under Gamal Abdel Nasser (1952-70) and Anwar Sadat (1970-81).

The breakdown of law and order in the wake of Mubarak's resignation, and the torching of a Christian church in Helwan near Cairo, rekindled a violent past between Coptic Christians (10 percent of Egypt's 82 million) and Muslims. Thirteen people were killed and 140 injured in one clash. Ambulances didn't respond and the wounded were taken to hospital in garbage trucks.

With no police around, several hundred youth poured in to Liberation Square shouting pro-Mubarak slogans as they groped and insulted International Women's Day activists. The army, firing into the air, quickly rounded them up and shipped them out of town where they were dumped in the desert and told to walk home.

There is also a settling of accounts at many different levels of government. And the media splashes a major "scandal" a day, claiming these are dug up by their intrepid investigative reporters. More likely, these are the work of jealous individuals getting even.

To wit: The man who was for 40 years the head of Egyptian antiquities is alleged to have given Suzanna Mubarak, the former president's wife, on her birthday a historic antiquity necklace that once belonged to the Queen mother of King Farouk (deposed by Nasser in 1952).

Zahi Hawass, once portrayed as the Indiana Jones of Egypt, is now dragged through the media as a common thief, which he heatedly denies.

Hawass, director general of Antiquities, was promoted to minister of antiquities in the last Mubarak government. And Egyptian media are piling on with stories about the theft and sale for countless millions of dollars of at least seven priceless pieces of Pharaoh treasures to private collectors among his friends in the United States, United Kingdom, and France.

If there are any libel laws, they don't seem to deter Cairo newspapers. It's open season on Egypt's successful entrepreneurs.

The editorial staff of the pro-government newspaper Al Ahram camped in Editor Osama Soraya's office to make sure incriminating financial documents weren't removed. Soraya said his editors and reporters never complained about the newspaper's editorial policy.

Until the bitter end, Soraya, interviewed by a wide variety of foreign TV reporters, insisted the million-plus protesters on Tahrir Square were "traitors" and "radical Islamists."

He also spiked an apology from some 500 reporters and editors working at Al Ahram and its sister publications. The next editor, the staff decided, is to be elected by the editorial staff, not appointed by the powers that be.

Another pro-Mubarak editor was slapped by his foreign editor and frog-marched out of the building. In banks and state-run or sponsored institutions, pro-government executives found their offices barred.

Hundreds of imams assembled at the Sunni world's largest religious learning institution to demand the expulsion of Al-Azhar University's principal sheik, soccer club executives were locked out of their offices, accused of loyalty to Mubarak and of trying to organize demos in his support when it was already clear he would have to step down.

The transition under military martial law toward elections and democracy is scheduled for six months. But Cairo is a city of 18 million virtually without police. And the army cannot patrol every street. So civilian vigilante groups took over. But they don't all agree on the way forward.

Meanwhile, bloody bellwethers are growing in number throughout the Arab world:
  1. To the west in Libya, where Moammar Gadhafi appears to be winning militarily against pro-Western rebels. A Gadhafi victory could spell the beginning of the end to the Arab spring of democratic protest.
  2. To the east in Bahrain, where anti-Western, anti-royalist Shiite have the pro-Western royal family on the defensive.
  3. In Yemen, where a despised pro-Western president was losing ground with newly minted anti-Western credentials.
  4. The first signs of trouble in Saudi Arabia's minority Shiite population (close to Bahrain); with a Saudi "Day of Anger" tweeting its way through Facebook.

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