Laura Dean's Cairo Diary

Cairo Diary, July 12: Friday of the "Leopard Crawl"

By Laura Dean
Sunday, July 14, 2013, 7:48 PM

It is the Friday of, as they say in Arabic, "Zahf."

The word connotes a kind of military advance or march---in this case, of supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi, pushing steadily from the governorates toward the capital.  Literally, though, Zahf means a motion like what in English is called a "leopard crawl." The etymology makes that clear. Zahf shares a root with the Arabic word for reptiles, or the class of animals that crawl on their stomachs, "zuwahif." Advancing Morsi backers and belly-crawling lizards and snakes, all captured in a single word, or root of a word: it is an example, really, of the delightful synchronicities of the Arabic language.

So what of the deposed president's supporters?  They are staging protests at multiple locations across town: Rabaa el Adaweya, as always the main encampment, and Nahdha Square at Cairo University, where 18 people were killed on July 2. I heard reports that pro-Morsi elements also would demonstrate outside the state media building at Maspero in Downtown and at Media City Studios in October City.  The goal is to protest biased TV news coverage of---or total failure to cover---the pro-Morsi demonstrations more generally. The group likewise objects to the vilification  of Morsi supporters on state and independent television channels. And TV news is not the only guilty party here, in the Brotherhood's view: the headline in El Masri El Youm (The Egyptian Today) , a widely read daily, is “Brotherhood Marches Against the People and the Army.” Keeping with a now familiar pattern, the press thus implies that the Brotherhood are not themselves a part of “the People”---though it certainly received more than its share of the People's votes.

Much violence was predicted today from several quarters, but I am very pleased to report that the leopard crawled peacefully. Investigations into the events of July 8, in which the army shot 55 Morsi supporters dead outside the Republican Guard Headquarters, meanwhile, are ongoing. We will likely know more within the week.

On Morsi's Jailbreak etc.

No one has seen Mohamed Morsi since he was detained on July 3.  The United States, along with Germany, has called for the end of Morsi's detention.  And on Thursday, it was announced that prosecutors would renew an investigation the alleged role of the Palestinian group Hamas in Morsi's escape from prison more than two years ago, on January 30, 2011. (A series of prison breaks, one of which resulted in Morsi's getaway, were among the precipitating events that led to the ouster of a longer serving Egyptian president. Hosni Mubarak.)

Morsi spent seven months in prison in 2006 for supporting a group of judges who denounced the results of the 2005 elections. In 2011 though, he and over thirty other members of the Brotherhood were detained for only two days before they were liberated . He said they were freed by people they did not know.

I'm no lawyer, but I think there are two obvious points here: first, under the Mubarak regime, Morsi and pretty much all Brotherhood prisoners were jailed for their political views. Any advocate of democracy should find that abhorrent. Secondly, it seems to me that if someone is freeing you from prison, the identity of your liberator is far less important to you than the fact of your liberation. So if Morsi did get some help from Hamas in busting out of prisoner, I'm not sure I see anything especially wrong with that.

Then again, I am not a judge in the canal city of Ismailia. Judge Khaled Mahgoub, after adjudicating a lesser case related to the 2011 jailbreak, suggested on Sunday June 23 that further investigation of Morsi and other Brotherhood members was warranted. For months there have been discussions of whether Hamas---which rules the Gaza Strip---collaborated with a group of Sinai Bedouins in springing Morsi. Many in the opposition resent the Brotherhood's relationship to Hamas, which has its roots in the Brotherhood, and some even whisper darkly of the Brotherhood's having sold fuel to the Palestinian group during a brief fuel crisis that preceded the June 30 protests---a claim of which I have yet to see any evidence to substantiate.  For their part, Morsi and others have explained the jailbreak in simple, Hamas-free terms, insisting that the future president was merely assisted by local residents in Wadi Natroun, Northwest of Cairo, where the prison is located.

On Saturday, the prosecutor announced that he was investigating additional complaints of inciting violence, ruining the economy and spying. Complaints such as these can be made by most anyone (police or private citizen) and from there a prosecutor will investigate them to determine whether or not to pursue a case.

Lawyer Amir Salem told the al Ahram newspaper that opponents of the ousted president, along with some members of the judiciary, think the ex-president could face high treason charges if "foreign hands" are found to be involved. The offense, moreover, could mean life imprisonment or death.

In other words, the judiciary seems to be ginning up charges against Morsi. Morsi antagonized the judiciary during his tenure in office, among other things by lowering the judicial retirement age, and thus making it easier to get rid of judges who opposed him. Adding insult to injury, Morsi also issued a constitutional declaration that rendered presidential decrees immune from judicial oversight and other grievances.

The Hamas-Jailbreak inquiry thus smells of judicial bias. In that respect, it resembles the charges levied against Morsi supporters, for inciting violence on a day that the army shot and killed those 55 people. Neither episode implies that Egypt's judges will be responsible, impartial stewards of democracy, during this transitional phase. They both suggest, rather, that the judges are carrying the military's water.

Before Iftar

The sun is approaching the horizon, and as I watch, makeshift shops spring up all around me. I walk towards a man standing next to a table, itself fashioned from crates and with a plank of wood laid cross-wise.  On top is a collection of repurposed plastic water bottles, all filled with liquids of different colors.  That one is tamarind juice, that one is sobia (a sweet white drink), that one is mango juice, the fellow informs me. Elsewhere, a Syrian-owned café has set up a stall, selling a pastry with black honey---a Syrian Ramadan specialty. Cairo, a city full of immigrants, students, and refugees from around the Muslim world, has long played host to a wide variety of Ramadan traditions.  (A photo essay on such traditions, in Egypt and elsewhere, can be found here.)

Tamarod has called for an Iftar---the evening, fast-breaking meal during Ramadan---to be held in Tahrir Square, about which I will write soon.

A harbinger of the changing times: I saw policemen on the streets today in their white summer uniforms for the first time since I arrived in Egypt in October of 2011. But when I first lived here in the summer of 2007 under President Hosni Mubarak, one couldn't go a block without seeing them. It was a different Egypt. An Egypt where jails were full of political prisoners and no one would talk overtly about politics or criticize the government. As I write, this a crew boat goes by.  I can hear the coach screaming at the rowers. Things feel pretty much back to normal. It feels like just another summer's day in 2007.


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