It’s all fun and games until someone storms the Israeli embassy…كل أمتاع ولعبات حتى يقتحم أحد السفارة الإسرائيلية
After taking a break for fasting, celebration, and ‘charging up their faith’, the liberal and leftist groups resumed their obsession with contentious politics (sit-ins, demonstrations, protests, etc.) Despite the failure of a month-long sit-in of July to achieve anything more than the annoyance of the shopkeepers in the downtown area, the liberal left organized yet another demonstration yesterday under the banner of “Correcting the Path” Friday during which they presented the same list of demands:
1. The cessation of sentencing civilians in military trials.
2. The resignation of Prime Minister Sharaf and his cabinet
3. The imposition of minimum and maximum wages in the public sector
4. The cessation of diplomatic relations with Israel.
5. The amendment of the electoral law favoring الفلول the fulul (remnants of the National Democratic Party).
As in July, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), Salifists, and other members of Islamist political movements declined to participate in this protest. Instead, the liberal and leftist groups were joined in their endeavors by the Zamalek and Ahly Ultras (think European soccer hulligans) fresh off of violent clashes with the Central Security Forces a few days prior.
Chanting سلمية، سلمية salimiyya, salimiyya (peaceful, peaceful), tens of thousands of people marched from throughout Cairo to Tahrir Square. Once there, banners were hung while a smaller march departed to the Interior Ministry. When I arrived around 4:00, the square was filled with various groups of people discussing politics and chanting for the resignation of Field Marshall Tantawy, while others (myself included) gathered along the fence line to take in the spectacle. By 6:00pm, those in the square had began to disperse satisfied with reminding SCAF that the liberal and left had not dissolved into nothingness over the course of Ramadan.
A couple of thousand individuals, however, were not done and began to march the four miles to the Israeli embassy. Keep Reading
Yesterday, Ilan Chaim Grapel was arrested by the Egyptian Security Services and charged with inciting destructive activities and attempting to factionalize the army and people and thus return Egypt to the chaos of the revolution. The story landed on the front page of a couple of major Egyptian newspapers – above the fold in Al-Ahram and on the fold in al-Masry al-Youm.
In addition to the usual vague espionage charges of gathering information, recruitment of nationals, and sowing unrest, an effort has been made to place Grapel in certain key political moments that occurred in Egypt since the January Revolution. There are photos of him at a protest in Tahrir Square which he is said to have visited on a regular basis in order to incite people to protest. There also are photos of him giving a speech to Egyptian youth in a mosque. Lastly, there is photo of him and an Egyptian girl surrounded by empty beer bottles. Most importantly, however, the articles claim that Grapel was in Imbaba during the sectarian strife between Copts and Muslims that killed nearly twenty people and set fire to two churches – one of which burned to the ground. He is also said to have been in front of the Journalists’ Syndicate while the Copts protested the lack of effort and initiative by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to pursue and punish those responsible for the Imbaba attacks.
Pining these sectarian attacks and protests on or attributing them to foreign sources gives the SCAF a means to deflect public anger away from itself. The Council has come under pressure of late for its inability to address the rising sectarian tensions. Nobody has been prosecuted or arrested in association with the Imbaba attacks; and random acts of violence against Copts often go unpunished (even if soldiers happen to witness them occurring). More importantly, it marks a continuation of Mubarak’s policy to attribute all sectarian violence to foreign actors and deny the existence of real fissures within Egyptian society (especially those between Copts and radical Muslims). Lastly, it provides a convenient distraction to divert public attention and discussion away from the steps necessary to insure a successful democratic transition that would challenge the political dominance the military has enjoyed since Gamal abd al-Nasar’s coup in 1952.
To aid in the above ends, the stories make an explicit point to highlight Grapel’s service in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) during which he participated in the 2006 Lebanese War. As Grapel is an Israeli national, his military background should not be a surprise (as all Israelis are required to serve in the IDF). Mentioning it, however, presents the Egyptian street with powerful emotive association to the same institution they consider responsible for the murder of Palestinians and annexation of their land.
Thus, the Egyptian street is unlikely to question the motivations behind the extensive publication of the story or whether the facts presented are actually true. For instance, Israel has arguably no interest in sowing sectarian unrest within Egypt as doing so creates an unstable state that would not only nurture radical Islamist ideologies hostile to the Israeli state but also be unable to secure the southern border of the Gaza Strip. Israel prefers a stable regime dedicated to upholding the Camp David Accords and limiting the amount of aid allowed into and amount of Palestinians allowed out of Gaza. In sum, Israel preferred the Mubarak regime to the existing transitional government and prefers that same transitional government to a popular regime (or failed state).
Instead of undergoing the above analysis, the Grapel story will grant further support to the vast number of Israel conspiracy theories circulating among Egyptians on a daily basis – including one about an attempted Israeli rescue of Mubarak.
Why do I post this story? Not only does it present a perfect example of Arab regime manipulation of the Israeli-Palestinian issue and its emotive aspect for its own gain, but I also met and had a half hour conversation with a one Ilan Chaim Grapel Saturday night at a café in Downtown. He has been teaching an Egyptian friend of mine Hebrew for the past few months – I can’t think of a worse cover for an Israeli spy.
In other political news, the opportunistic Salafists formed their political party today. The name of their party – The Light – marks a distinct departure from the rest of the Egyptian political parties who have all used at least one of the following two words in their name: Democracy & Freedom. Although to be honest, those two words do not harmonize with the Salafist ideology.
In personal news, my friends and I finally signed our apartment contract and moved into our apartment last night. Our landlady is El-Baradei’s aunt. Today, the new stove arrived and was installed; the carpenter fixed the broken cabinets and drawers; the electrician fixed the broken lights; and the plumber fixed the water pressure so my flat mates and I can take showers. In other words, everything went exactly as planned while I was in Egypt. Somebody pinch me.
UPDATE: Gaprel is apparently an American citizen who – according to his father – entered Egypt legally to work for the legal bureau of a refugee assistance organization. According to his mother, Gaprel – a third year law student at Emory University – was open about his identity as an Israeli-American. From this new evidence, it looks the the SCAF is definitely making an attempt to distract the Egyptian public from the more important issues at hand.