Al Cairo si riaccende lo scontro fra cristiani e musulmani

2011 § Leave a comment

È improvvisamente riesploso lo scontro fra cristiani copti e musulmani ieri notte nel quartiere cristiano del Cairo. Durante una sparatoria fra un gruppo di fondamentalisti islamici e alcuni residenti del famoso quartiere a maggioranza copta, almeno dodici persone sono rimaste uccise e 150 ferite. Secondo quanto denunciato dai residenti del quartiere, alle radici dell’attacco ci sarebbero voci che vogliono una donna copta tenuta in ostaggio in chiesa perché pronta a convertirsi all’Islam. I preti della chiesa di Santa Mena avrebbero così pensato di impedirle la conversione, impedendole di venire allo scoperto.

Si è riacceso così un conflitto che sembrava sopito, dopo che quasi due mesi fa dieci cristiani erano rimasti uccisi in scontri settari nel quartiere popolare del Moqattam, a est del Cairo. Quella notte, un gruppo di fondamentalisti aveva attaccato una chiesa, aprendo fuoco indiscriminatamente sui passanti indifesi. Ma questa volta non tutti sono convinti della matrice islamica dell’attacco. Tamer, uno dei residenti del quartiere, giura che è stata tutta opera di alcuni teppisti, volenterosi di sollevare il caos per le strade del quartiere. Questi cosiddetti ‘teppisti’ (baltageya) ricoprono un ruolo famoso in Egitto: sono quei gruppi di malintenzionati al soldo dei potenti, il cui mestiere è provocare il caos su commissione e che arrivarono all’apice della loro (im)popolarità quando comparirono sulle prime pagine dei quotidiani internazionali dopo aver attaccato i manifestanti di Piazza Tahrir a dorso di cavallo e cammello, il 29 gennaio scorso.

Ma non è la prima volta che scontri di matrice religiosa vengono confusi con faide di altra natura. Molti in Egitto pensano che le esplosioni che distrussero le due Chiese di Alessandria prima delle celebrazioni per il Capodanno copto siano state opera dei servizi segreti volti ad aumentare la tensione nel paese, più che opera di un isolato gruppo di fondamentalisti islamici con pochissimo seguito in tutto l’Egitto.

La dissoluzione dell’ Amn ed-Dawla (l’odiato corpo dei servizi segreti) e la recente incarcerazione e condanna a 12 anni per l’ex ministro degli Interni Habib el-Adly non hanno fatto che dare più adito a questi sospetti. Già le manifestazioni (annunciate come anti-cristiane) che hanno bloccato per quasi una settimana la città meridionale di Qena non hanno tardato a rivelare la loro matrice non-religiosa. Lì i manifestanti hanno spontaneamente allentato la tensione quando un gruppo di fondamentalisti ha provato a rivendicare la paternità delle manifestazioni, sviando l’attenzione dai veri motivi proteste e attribuendo loro una matrice religiosa fuori contesto. Alla base di quelle manifestazioni, infatti, c’era la volontà di voltare pagina e lasciarsi alle spalle la corruzione e l’emarginazione dell’Alto Egitto voluta dall’Ancien Regime della cricca mubaracchiana, ancora rappresentata dal neo-nominato governatore Mikhail malvoluto da tutti gli abitanti della città, sia Musulmani che Cristiani. In un paese che ancora deve recuperare dalla grave crisi economica e sociale in cui è piombato dopo la storica rivoluzione del 25 Gennaio, al nuovo governo spetta l’arduo compito di stare al passo con le aspettative di un popolo che ha capito di essere in grado di poter cacciare un dittatore.

Più che odio religioso, sembra che alla base di questi scontri ci sia la quasi totale mancanza di forze di sicurezza a garantire l’ordine pubblico per le strade del Cairo post-rivoluzionario. Più di tre mesi fa ormai, la polizia si è vista obbligata a passare il testimone all’esercito, il giorno in cui le forze dell’ordine sono state surclassate e pubblicamente umiliate dalla folla di manifestanti accorsa a Piazza Tahrir per chiedere all’ex Presidente Hosni Mubarak di abbandonare il paese. Mentre in questi giorni la polizia fa solo gradualmente ritorno ai suoi presidi, il ruolo dell’esercito rimane limitato alla protezione di obiettivi sensibili, lasciando l’amministrazione dell’ordine pubblico alle ronde volontarie dei residenti di quartiere e al buon cuore della popolazione civile. È anche questa più o meno voluta mancanza di controllo a lasciare che le intenzioni molto poco religiose di un manipolo di estremisti si mischino a cose molto ma molto più grandi di loro.

il sito del Sole

Celebrating May-Day with Cairo’s (other) workers

2011 § Leave a comment

The first May day in post-revolutionary Egypt saw hundreds of thousands of people gather in Tahrir Square. The crowd asked for the new government to guarantee reforms that would provide workers with basic rights.

But Magdir, a 45 years-old worker for a Cairo construction company, did not rally in Tahrir. He spent his Mayday working with his colleagues, re-painting the facade of a building only few blocks away from the world-famous Square where demonstrators had gathered.

“There is nothing to do there,” Magdir told Bikya Masr while holding a blue rope in his right hand spattered with yellow paint. Magdir raises his head, peering at the paint basket hanging at the opposite end of the rope. There, his workmates Ahmed and Abdallah sink their rollers and attentively paint the facade of a nineteenth century downtown building.

Ahmed and Abdallah stand on the same wooden beam, leaned on by two motorbike tires, each of them hanging from a rope they previously fixed on the top of the building. The two swing together at roughly 20 meters from the floor, giving a brush to the facade every time their fluctuation takes them close enough to the building.

“Thank God we work six days a week,” continued Magdir, “and on Friday I stay at home, play Playstation or football with friends.”

Magdir used to be a migrant worker. He worked as a cook in Jordan, as a waiter in Syria and as a builder in Saudi Arabia. When he found wife in Egypt and planned to settle down, this job was the best he managed to get.

However, he regards this as a lucky catch somehow, as his and his colleagues’ daily salary range between LE60-80 daily ($10-15), exceeding the monthly LE400 ($68) set by Egypt’s current legislation as minimum wage.

This is another reason why they might not have joined Tahrir’s protesters. There, demonstrators called for the government to immediately raise minimum wages up to LE1,200 ($200).

Until October 2010, minimum wage in Egypt was set at LE35 monthly ($6). It was then raised just over the World Bank’s Moderate Poverty Threshold ($2 daily) following unprecedented protests.

But many look on with nostalgia at the earlier stand, as employees would openly negotiate salaries with their own employer. As the minimum wage was set at a higher rate, many ended up with earnings lower then they would expect before the reform.

Instead, Magdir’s concerns depend on another topic. “His father died two years ago,” says him pointing at his young apprentice Amr, “he fell from the beam. Gone.” Lacking alternatives, Amr took his father’s place in the company and is now learning from his colleagues how to swing on the beam.

“It takes an iron heart to get up there,” intervenes Mohammed, one of the company’s veteran. Mohammed has been going up on the beam for more than thirty years. He now enjoys the petty tasks reserved to an experienced assistant like him.

He does not know how and when, but Magdir considers a trade union the only way out from their unlucky position.

He and his colleagues think many steps forward have been done towards the creation of a safer working environment in the last years. Nonetheless, as a consequence of the complete lack of public subsidies and the dangerous working conditions, their job is often not worth doing.

Independent trade unions outside the management of state-led Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) were formally banned under former President Hosni Mubarak. After the February 11 collapse of the regime, the ETUF’s 54 year-long monopoly was interrupted by the creation of a range of new associations, covering all sorts of categories including those previously discriminated by the ETUF like farmers and fishermen.

Lack of coordination and know-how are not the only obstacles between workers like Magdir and trade unions.

The Cairo Land Center for Human Rights (LCHR) recently warned of an ongoing genocide in the Egyptian village of Musa, as remnants of the former regime deprived inhabitants of current water and food supplies, as they discovered farmers were planning to institute a trade union to cover their interests.
As the battle rages on on Tahrir’s international stage, and newly-formed trade unions endorse interests of industrial workers (see those in Shebeen al-Kom or Mahalla), those like Magdir have a much longer and tougher battle ahead of them.

Abdallah and Ahmed slowly reach the base of the building and finally hop off the beam. Abdallah says he does not fear his job, but hopes he will soon have enough money to give it up. He wants to buy a Toyota and work as a microbus driver.

this was from Bikya Masr, photos by David Chierchini © 2011-2012

Why the revolution should leave Midan Tahrir, for a moment at least

2011 § Leave a comment

There is not much to do in Midan Tahrir for the revolution, now less than ever. This is what most of the Egyptian opposition forces seem to realise in these dramatic days of chaotic protests. The Midan falling back into some kind of surreal ‘normality’ is certainly not the result of the Army’s violent, ruthless comeback, neither of a loss of revolutionary fervour by the forces of the opposition. It is a sign, hopefully of change.

The father of a martyr shot dead in the Square holds up a piece of paper stained with the blood of his dead son

On Thursday morning, soldiers and volunteers in downtown Cairo were planting flowers in the Midan and painting walls and pavements in white and black, as if covering the written signs of a country in uprising would make people forget about how much they have achieved so far.

Last Saturday, two desperate parents wandered crying around Tahrir for hours, showing people a bloodstained piece of carton carrying the dimm el-shaheed, the blood of their martyred son killed in the Midan on Friday, while the Army was reportedly shooting in the air in order to frighten what they still want people to think is only a small group of violent dawdlers. Will I ever forget those crying faces?

Sharif, one of the shebab temporarily opposing protests in Tahrir, says there are three different kinds of people:

There are people who work for the revolution, people who work against the revolution, and people who sit at home, watching television and believing whatever the news says.
One of the Army’s strongest points lies in the power of a dialectic, enforced by media still subjugated by a corrupted political system, aiming to divide those in favour of the revolution, keeping them at home and turning them into sceptical observers from afar. They say the people in Tahrir are baltageya, professional thugs whose job is to throw the country into anarchy and chaos, occasionally selling hashish during breaks.

The baltageya is indeed an actor on stage, but is a double-edged one. Even two inveterate supporters of the baltageya like Hosni Mubarak and former Interior Minister Habib el-Adly committed their last, fatal mistake by ordering the opening of state prisons on 28 January. The sight of “pro-Mubarak” supporters riding camels and storming into the crowd to beat peaceful demonstrators made protesters squeeze up.

Even those who already made up their minds and wanted to allow Mubarak to stay until September elections, suddenly found themselves shouting for his ouster. Almost three months after those events, the baltageya‘s double-edge is still a highly destabilising factor in the country, fully exploited by those reactionary forces willing to thwart the country’s path towards political normalisation.

But this is not enough. As a small number of Army officials joined demonstrators and refused to take off their uniforms last Friday, many protesters smelled a rat. This intrusion disclosed a glaring sign of division within the Army, but at the same time it legitimised the intervention of security forces.

After seeing them shooting in the crowd and clearing out the Midan, many protesters still fool themselves into thinking that the Army is the people’s only guardian, and that those who cleared out Tahrir were mercenaries paid by Mubarak’s personal friend and business Ibrahim Kamel. Even in this case, where was the Army when the people needed protection? Egyptians have to realise that the time – if there was ever one – when the people and the Army were iid wahda (one hand) are now definitely over, and handing over power to a civil presidential council is the only solution for the time being.

Here we come to the point. The recent escalation of violence is a sign that the Army’s divide and rule agenda is being successfully put forward. This urged the opposition to wisely call for a suspension of demonstrations, and for the cancellation of Friday’s milioneya, the march of the million calling for the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) to step down. This does not mean that revolutionary forces are satisfied with the Mubaraks’ or Kamel’s – fake – prosecution. “Our revolution is not against Mubarak,” one of the activists involved in the movement for the ‘Protection of the Revolution’ reminded me. “Our protests aim at a reversal of the 1952 coup d’état and the institution of a civil Presidential council”. Indeed, Field Marshall Mohammed Hussein Tantawi is a military man, like Mohammed Naguib, Gamal Abdel Naser, Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak before him.

When I asked an Egyptian friend for a definition of the baltageya, he told me “a baltagy is either someone who pushes you to do something you do not want to do or someone who prevents you from doing what you want to do.” Suspending protests this Friday means avoiding that open (and suicidal) confrontation the Army has been looking for since they mingled with those violent enemies of the people’s rightful demands.

The revolution has been played out in many other fields, but Midan Tahrir still remains the battleground for the protesters’ main political demands. Celebrating a new Friday of protests with an empty Midan Tahrir amounts to an important step towards the realisation of the revolutionary agenda, and shows that the revolution is gaining ground on, and understanding of, an increasingly chaotic panorama, remaining loyal at the same time to its peaceful character and refusing to bow heads in front of the SCAF’s cosmetic adjustments.

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