Bouthaina Kamel (photo: picture alliance/dpa)
Interview with the Egyptian Activist Bouthaina Kamel

''The Revolution Is Not Over as Long as the Military Rules''

The Egyptian journalist and presidential candidate Bouthaina Kamel is making serious allegations against the Egyptian military council, which she does not believe will hand over power after the elections. Ahmed Obeida spoke to her about these and other aspects of the situation in Egypt

What is your assessment of the first parliamentary elections to take place since the Egyptian revolution?

Bouthaina Kamel: I would first like to provide a background explanation of the positions taken by the various political forces with respect to the parliamentary elections. We entered into these elections after the appearance of a paper, a kind of "super document", which grants the military council permanent and extraordinary power over the state – a state within a state, if you wish. One consequence of this is that the military budget is not subject to inspection. Let me be perfectly clear when I say that the corruption among members of the military council is sufficient to put them behind bars.

At the same time, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamist forces in general have persistently advocated holding parliamentary elections in the assumption that they would win the lion's share of the vote. And this is, in fact, to be expected, as they have the best organization on the ground and have ample finances. What we have observed, however, is that their approach to the whole thing has been quite short-sighted.

A demonstrator on Tahrir Square holding up tear gas canisters (photo: dapd)
Bouthaina Kamel accuses the Egyptian military of using tear gas purchased with credit from the EU and the US as well as poison gas on demonstrators in Tahrir Square

​​I am convinced that the military council has made a number of deals with the Islamists over the past few months. It is obviously working for a repeat of the Algerian scenario in Egypt, which would mean that all the doors would initially be opened for the Islamists and they would win the elections. These results would alarm the West and, consequently, the military council would remain in power. That being said, I don't believe that it is possible to turn back the clock. Even though the course of events in Algeria followed that particular path, no one expects that to happen in Egypt.

The military council has rejected all these accusations and has stressed that the elections have, in general, been properly organized. What do you say to that?

Kamel: Proper organization is not something that is just limited to the voting day itself. I know that no side, whether secular or the Muslim Brotherhood, has been free from making mistakes in the election process. Each of us in our own way is still operating under the shadow of the former regime. The military council can say what it likes, but since the revolution, some 16,000 civilians have been sentenced by military courts. It is clear that they want to strangle the revolution and force the people to their knees. When shortages in the food supply are artificially generated and there is a general acceptance of the decline in general security, this is an attempt to incite the people to turn against their own revolution.

As censorship now only still exists in the form of civil society organizations, we have embraced social media on the Internet and are pursuing an excellent idea from the website "Almorakeb.com" (The Observer) to provide an opportunity for every citizen to circulate his or her observations. There is a whole range of institutions and initiatives that are recording such observations. Even international television broadcasters and news agencies often make use of the images and films made by ordinary citizens on these sites.

The Islamists now rule in Tunisia and have become the strongest political force in Morocco. It seems as if this is a general trend in the Arab world.

Kamel: I think that the Islamists in Tunisia differ from those in Egypt, perhaps because many of them have lived in the West. The Egyptian Islamists, by contrast, have made their public appearance through the media in the wake of the plebiscite, which they refer to as the "battle of the ballot box." They are calling on the Copts to leave Egypt. What I want to say is that our revolution is not over as long as the military still rules. I have no expectations whatsoever that the military council plans to abandon power.

Men standing in line beside a wall plastered with Egyptian election posters (photo: picture alliance/dpa)
According to activist Bouthaina Kamel, the only people who are voting in the current elections are those interested in politics, members of the National Party or the Muslim Brotherhood, and people who are old enough to remember the elections of the early 1950s

​​

What else could be done to get Egypt out of its current political dead-end?

Kamel: We find ourselves stuck in a political dead-end, because many of the political players have begun to make deals with the military council, although the slogan of Tahrir Square was "Civilian power, no military and no confessionalism!" Unfortunately, Egyptian society has been completely eroded over the years. Without exception, all politicians have for years been involved in one deal after another. Now, every day, the fig leaves are falling away and these things are coming to light. The transition from dictatorship to democracy doesn't take place overnight, but is a long process. Freedom isn't achieved through political mechanisms, but through revolution, opposition, and demonstrations.

Even some of those who we believed were on our side when we were on Tahrir Square have abandoned us and have allied themselves to the military council. But let me provide a more comprehensive picture of the situation. We are now seeing tanks and barbed wire in Egypt. Just a few days ago, altercations between revolutionaries and the police and army resulted in a number of deaths. People are gathering on Tahrir Square and demanding that the military step down. On the one hand, there is pressure on the street from those who believe in the revolution. On the other, there are also a number of politicians, authors, and others, who are convinced of the need to continue with the revolution and are offering political solutions.

Yet isn't the army you are criticizing the very army that has protected the revolution and has not acted like the military in Syria or Libya?

Kamel: This is not exactly the case. The army has tortured and killed revolutionaries and has conducted medical examinations to ascertain the virginity of female demonstrators. Everyone should know that the military council in Egypt is far more cunning than similar institutions in other Arab countries.

In the words of a simple Egyptian I met, "They didn't act like in Syria or Libya, but instead positioned themselves so close to the revolution that they were able to strangle it." When I stand in the long line of people waiting in front of the polling stations, I meet completely normal Egyptians, who would never have been able to vote were it not for the revolution. But they badmouth the demonstrators and complain about the revolution. This just goes to show that the sole role of the military council consists in strangling the revolution and taking care of its own. We in Egypt are confronted not only with the legacy of the Mubarak regime, but also with 60 years of military rule. Everyone should be perfectly clear about this point.

When I was arrested last week and brought to the Interior Ministry, the commanders on duty acknowledged that they served Habib El-Adli (the last Interior Minister under Hosni Mubarak – ed.), who is currently in Tara Prison. I am convinced that the military council made an agreement with Mubarak along the lines of "step aside and we will make sure that nothing happens to you." This is supported by the fact that the freezing of Mubarak's assets, the court case against him, and the removal from office of Ahmed Shafiq (Prime Minister under Mubarak during the Egyptian revolution – ed.), and all other similar measures only took place under pressure from millions of Egyptians and after much bloodshed.

Your critics charge that you have not even been prepared to give the military a chance to implement its roadmap for a democratic transition of the country and that you are in the service of foreign powers.

Kamel: I would truly like to know who is making such claims. Who obtains the billions of dollars worth of weapons from the US? Who, then, is in a position to speak about being supported with dollars from America? Don't all the weapons of the Egyptian army come from the US and Europe? We are being killed by tear gas grenades that are purchased with credit from European governments and with contributions from the US. The problem with European credit is that the Egyptian people are being killed with these funds and then the credit still has to be paid back after their deaths. If that isn't an injustice! We have given the military council a chance for many months.

Protests against the military council in Egypt (photo: dapd)
In it for the long haul: Bouthaina Kamel points out that the revolution is not over yet and adds that "freedom isn't achieved through political mechanisms, but through revolution, opposition, and demonstrations"

​​Let me cite a simple example. The military council announced on its Facebook page in its Communiqué No. 29 that the presidential elections would take place in April 2012. Then the communiqué was deleted and the members of the military council explained that the presidential elections would take place in 2013. Only after demonstrators began chanting slogans against the military council did it backtrack and once again announce presidential elections for 2012. These are all tricks and lies. I have seen with my own eyes how the sheikhs from Al-Azhar University and the military council agreed not to attack each other. Yet, at the start of evening prayers, the praying crowd was bombarded with gas grenades.

Will there be an independent commission to investigate these occurrences?

Kamel: This is what we are demanding. It is impossible to be party to a case and also be judge or arbitrator at the same time. This has been pointed out by the young blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah, who clearly rejected all of the charges concocted against him by the military. "I refuse to be sentenced by military justice. The military is one of the guilty parties in the massacre of Maspero."

Under military council rule, over 20 churches have been set on fire, 16,000 civilians have been tried before military courts, female demonstrators have been examined to determine if they were virgins, and, at the same time, we are experiencing an unprecedented intentional worsening of the general security situation in the country. On top of all this, the military is deploying poison gas. I was on Tahrir Square and saw how demonstrators collapsed. Doctors confirmed that this was the result of nerve gas. The military is killing us every day.

The crimes of the military council are crimes against humanity. I hereby declare in no uncertain terms, "You will be put on trial just like Milosevic and all those who have committed crimes against humanity!" These are murderers. We cannot entrust them with either the transfer of power to civilians or the protection of democracy in Egypt.

Despite this criticism, perhaps those on Tahrir Square have lost the initiative, and the military council will implement the roadmap it has been following all along, namely, the holding of elections on the scheduled date, even if the young people on Tahrir Square are against it?

Kamel: The Egyptian people are boycotting the elections. The only people who have voted are those interested in politics, members of the National Party or the Muslim Brotherhood, and perhaps those old enough to have lived in the liberal period in Egypt before 1952 and know what it means have cast their vote.

Since the referendum in March this year and also during parliamentary elections, the Egyptian people have sent out a clear message: "We are hungry for freedom and democracy!" One can't stress enough that it was the blood of fallen heroes and the explosion of protests by the young people of this country demanding freedom that has brought the Egyptian people these changes. If you hate your revolution, then you deny that it was the revolution that has made you a positively thinking people able to believe in the possibility of change.

A man being treated for injuries (photo: picture alliance)
This list of accusations against Egypt's military council is long: 16,000 civilians have been tried in military courts, female demonstrators have been forced to undergo intrusive virginity examinations, tear gas and poison gas have been used, and corruption is considered rampant

​​The Egyptian people was in a state of rigor mortis and had long since given up the hope of change. Without the loss of blood, this long-cherished dream would not have been revived. The fact that the election commissions are enjoying such massive acceptance leaves me overjoyed.

Even today, the military council does not possess any legitimacy whatsoever, even though it keeps telling the people that its legitimacy springs from changes to the constitution. This in no way conforms to the truth. It only serves domestic propaganda purposes. In reality, the military council requires a parliament that is formed in accordance with its preferences so that it can deal with Western societies.

But the military council has invited international election observers to make sure that the elections are run properly. And parliament won't be formed in accordance with its preferences. The Muslim Brotherhood would be extremely fortunate if the democratic process is ensured, because if it is, we might experience a situation in Egypt similar to the one in Turkey, where the military held all key positions of power until an Islamic government changed the constitution, thereby pulling the carpet out from under the feet of the army. Is such a scenario conceivable in Egypt?

Kamel: Everything is conceivable. But we should keep our eyes fixed on the fact that Egyptian society in general is not radical, but instead inclined towards balance and peace. The illiteracy rate is extremely high. It is, therefore, easy to convince people to sign something, as documents are difficult to understand and the whole electoral process is exceedingly complicated.

If, however, a particular group is shunted aside, this alone would cause a degree of upset and instability. It is also the case than not all sections of the Egyptian population participated in the revolution. There are revolutionaries and the crowds that rally around them, but there is also what we refer to as the "couch party", i.e. those who sit and wait for a winner to appear in order to be on the right side. That is just the way people are. Nonetheless, it can't be overlooked that the revolution in Egypt is continuing.

When will it be possible to speak of a democratic state in Egypt?

Kamel: There is still a long way to go, but I fully place my hope in the positive attributes of the Egyptian people. This prolonged timeframe will also contribute to finding out the truth about many players in these events on the basis of the statments they continually have to make.

Interview conducted by Ahmed Obeida

© Qantara.de 2011

Translated from the German by John Bergeron

Editor: Aingeal Flanagan/Qantara.de

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