Monthly Archives: August 2011

Martyrs behind bars

EIPR releases a report on prison abuse in Egypt during the revolution, ‘Martyrs behind bars’:

You can read the report here. An English translation should be up soon. And here is an ONTV programme based on the report:

It features an interview with the sister of General Mohamed al-Batran, Chief of the Prison Authority’s Intelligence Unit, who was killed by prison guards inside al-Qatta prison on the 29th January.

There used to be a huge picture of al-Batran hanging up in the Tahrir Square sit-in. I first heard about the al-Batran story from a friend of mine, MS, who lives in Fayoum. We were walking past the poster one day and he told me that it was a general from his town and that he was a decent man who had been killed for trying to treat prisoners like human beings. I asked what happened and he told me the story of how al-Batran went to al-Qatta to talk to the prisoners and to try to calm unrest and that he was shot by other prison guards.

There is a large prison in Fayoum, innovatively named al-Fayoum prison, and MS also told me that during the revolution he used to see prisoners occasionally walking through the streets of the town, wrapped in blankets, lost and disoriented. Once, he said, he went up and talked to one of them. The prisoner told him that there was no security and he had escaped. He said he was from Fayoum but he had been in prison so long that he didn’t recognise the streets any more. He asked MS to tell him the way to the main street. Then he walked away, his blanket trailing along the floor behind him.

Leave a comment

Filed under Links

When your Facebook feed reads like the Greatest Hits of the Clash*

Gonna stick my oar in on the London riots. A few points for consideration:

[1] The looters/rioters are not mindless. They wanted things and they went for exactly the things they wanted because that’s what the prevailing capitalist system has drilled into them from day one. All this stuff about ‘looters with blackberries can’t be that poor’, yes, ok, these people are not starving. However I would say the problem is not poverty but injustice (just like in Egypt – you often hear people saying that it is not being poor that bothers them but inequality, injustice, rampant corruption, etc.) The left and right are both judging them for what they chose to steal but are missing the central point that the fact they chose to steal trainers and TVs is in some ways a more savage indictment of our society than if they were starving families stealing bread or politically-motivated revolutionaries smashing up RBS. These people feel like they are not getting their due in modern Britain and see no other way than to ‘get paid’, i.e. go out and get their due for themselves when the opportunity arises. Note that their ‘due’ is material goods because that’s all we have been conditioned to aspire to.

 [2] Let’s stop the class snobbery about the rioters/looters as well, and let’s especially stop the racial tinge to this. There were university graduates out there stealing shit. Greed and opportunism is pretty universal. It’s become kind of a lefty canard to equate bankers and looters in a pointless ‘this is like that’ exercise but there is a grain of truth to it, which is to say that in general if human beings face the opportunity to enrich themselves for free then a certain proportion of them are always going to. (Apart from us socialists, we would never do such a thing.) It’s easy to condescend towards a group seen as an underclass (‘they left all the bookshops alone, didn’t they! chortle chortle!’) but the last I heard, Cormac McCarthy novels didn’t have much of a street value and all this is going to do in the long run is further perpetuate this immense gulf in understanding between Britain’s haves and have-nots. I don’t even know what to say about David Starkey and his arse-licking cheerleaders (‘right on, Dave! wield your truth sword!’) because the man is so obviously a big ol’ racist. This is not ‘black culture in excelsis’, it is aspirational-capitalist culture in excelsis.

[3] Obviously punish the looters. This stuff doesn’t even need to be said. If you catch them, put them on trial (a proper trial, not some half-asleep 24hr magistrate handing down wacky sentences for stealing some water), and then give them an appropriate punishment. |To be honest I can’t think of a crime more suitable for ‘community service’ afterwards. I’d like to see a scheme whereby rioters/looters are set to work cleaning up the homes and livelihoods they destroyed, ending with heartwarming scenes as small business owners and yoot’ embrace and promise to fight together to bring down Cameron’s government. But hey, I’m a dreamer.

 [4] This was not a working-class uprising. You can fiddle with semantics but any misty-eyed lefties seeking revolution in the leaping flames of Allied Carpets need to take a deep breath and calm down. However, although the riots were not political in form or tone, they quite evidently stemmed from political and economic roots. Gary Younge puts it quite well when he says that ‘ when a group of people join forces to flout both law and social convention, they are acting politically.’ A friend of mine here in Egypt also drew an interesting parallel, not with the revolution, but with the months preceding it which saw similar ‘mindless’ violence on the part of disaffected Coptic youth. The socioeconomic ills of Britain have been so well rehearsed in the past few weeks, most notably and movingly by Camilla Batmanghelidjh, so I won’t bother to go through them again here. Comparing London to Cairo at the moment is another pointless exercise in broad-brushstroke ‘this is like this’ analysis. Thomas Friedman is probably penning the hand-wringing article at this very moment, not neglecting to mention the fact that opposition to Israel was nowhere to be seen on the streets of either city. Yes, Egyptians, you didn’t steal trainers from the Adidas on Talaat Harb, well done, and your smug tweets to that effect are kind of justified. Yet both January 25th and whatever we’re calling this stuff in England (I suggest the ‘Midsummer Commotion’) came from injustice and inequality.

 [5] Warning: personal recollections. Skip if you dislike political analysis based on anecdote. Like many people, I grew up in London. Specifically, I grew up in Tottenham and I know that former classmates or people they are connected to have been involved in these events, mainly through their charming habit of posting trophy pictures on Facebook. I was privileged enough to make growing up in Tottenham safe, comfortable and even fun. I was also the kind of dreamy, disconnected kid who preferred books to human company and thus wasn’t at the cutting edge of documenting social inequality. However, watching what has happened to my home town has brought back a few specific memories. I remember at primary school a friend of mine, A., was excluded for carrying a knife to school. Afterwards he spent his days circling the neighbourhood on his bike, riding up and down outside the school gates taunting us because we were still in school whereas he was free. We all thought he was cool as fuck and how much we wanted to get the hell out too. There’s nothing abnormal about kids wanting to skip school but there is something wrong when kids feel so little connection to the state institutions that are allegedly trying to help them that they do not give a shit enough to bring a knife to school. (This is like aged 10, by the way.) The point of all this is: this generation, my generation, have felt alienated and fobbed off by the state for a long time. Middle-class kids of my age are only just starting to wake up to the fact that the state doesn’t give much of a shit about them, either.

[6] The aftermath of this has been equally depressing as the riots themselves. It’s basically been an excuse for the right to start waving their authoritarian phalluses around and bleating about law and order. Some of the measures taken have been repugnant, I’m looking at you, Wandsworth Council. As Gary Younge wrote (man that was a good article) the riots may have not been particularly wise, politically speaking. But at the least it has shoved problems in our face which now cannot be ignored. Hopefully Cameron’s shiny US gang experts (having come to power thinking he was in the West Wing, our Dear Leader now thinks he’s in the Wire) will lay down some Real Talk on the folly of leaving disaffected youth to stew in their own disaffectedness. Hopefully Ed Miliband will say something inspirational and statesman-like, thereby sealing the fate of the Conservative government. (Ha! Sorry, I think I fell asleep there for a second.)

Hopefully the family of Mark Duggan will receive justice, and the families of Haroon Jahan, Shazad Ali, and Abdul Musavir, and all those who lost their homes and businesses.

Hopefully so will everyone who is fucked over by the state in Britain – a group which, like it or not, includes many of those hoodie-wearing petrol-bomb-chucking plasma-TV-looting low-lives you saw on your TV screens and who are not a million miles away from you or your kids, literally or metaphorically.

*not my joke, unfortunately.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized