Geoffrey Mock, our Egypt country specialist and chair of the Middle East County Specialists for Amnesty USA, hosted a Facebook discussion on February 4th in order to answer questions about the ongoing demostrations in Egypt.
Here is the text of the Facebook Discussion:
Geoffrey Mock: Hi. This is Geoffrey Mock, country specialist for Egypt. I see some questions have come in. Just a general statement to start about conditions today. There is a celebratory mood throughout many of the protesters coming after a bad day of violence. It is really inspiring to see how many more Egyptians are coming out to defend their political rights after such a day of violence. But it's still not clear whether we are in an endgame so calls of solidarity with the protestors are still needed. We'll talk a little about what that involves later. Finally there is still concern that the two AI researchers that were detained yesterday are still not accounted for, as well as an HRW delegate and others taken yesterday. They are among scores of people arrested in the week of protests, and we must continue calls for their release.
Question: My question is: When obtaining renunciation of President Hosni Mubarak: who will be nominated as president? What measures can alleviate the tensions in the streets and establish the way to democratic elections? I think the history lived by the people of Egypt in a few years is the history of Venezuela.
Answer: I have actually been thinking more of the example of Chile for example. I see Ariel Dorfman around campus and he talks about the patience of the Chilean people being paramount in their work for democracy, and certainly you see the people in Tahrir Square and they have been patient but a positive, active kind of patience. As for your question, it's not clear what leadership the protestors will put forward. There are credible reports that USG are pressing VP Suleiman to take over for Mubarak. But that would be satisfactory to the people in the streets only if there are some other conditions. We can talk more about Suleiman in a moment because he has quite a record.
Question: What are the possible scenarios concerning the change of government and a possible change in the Egyptian policy about the situation in Gaza e.g the blockade?
Answer: Well, Amnesty has quite a position on what to do about Gaza and we would love any Egyptian government to follow our advice of adhering to international law. My best guess is that regardless of Egyptian government, it is in the country's interest to have a stable border with Gaza. At AI, we think that means taking care of some of the economic concerns that arise from the blockade. At the same time, if the border is used to cover military activity against Israeli civilians, that has to stop as well.
Question: As a college student, member of Amnesty and human rights activist, what is the most valuable thing that I can do now and tell my friends to do in order to try to restore civility in Egypt?
Answer: Express solidarity for the Egyptian people by calling on the Egyptian government, at the embassy, to protect the protesters and their democratic rights, rein in the security forces, use the military to protect the protesters, end the state of emergency and account for the more than 1,200 people detained during the week, including the human rights observers.
Question: Call the Egyptian embassy direct in Washington? Do you have their contacts?
A: Join a solidarity event (we'll be holding a rally in front of the White House tomorrow) if there's one in your community. Take action online here: http://bit.ly/hRS1f4. And call the Egyptian Embassy to demand an end to abuses, for details see our blog post: http://bit.ly/hoJaYk Thanks for asking this important question! The phone number for the Egyptian Embassy in DC is 202.895.5400
Question: How will Egypt be a regime where democracy and freedoms of speech, religion and assembly can be recognized in a peaceful manner?
What will happen if Mubarak goes now?
Answer: Egypt has a long tradition of a vigorous civil society. It's taken 30 years of Mubarak's rule to attempt to muzzle some of those civil society elements, and these protests are showing that he never was successful in the effort. If you believe, as I do, that a strong civil society, including law, education, press, etc., is a necessary foundation for a good working democracy, then Egypt may just be in a good situation
Question: Are the disputes about the Uprising in Egypt being a replay of the Islamic Revolution in Iran reasonable? How powerful is the Muslim Brotherhood? How many supporters do they have, particularly in the protests now on the streets? And how should we interpret Mubarak's statement that in case he steps down, much worse will happen to Egypt?
Answer: The MB is well organized and well financed but they don't have a support of the majority of the people and they know it. Mubarak has played the MB card for decades as a way of silencing Western support for democracy in Egypt. So the question isn't about the Muslim Brothers, it's about democratic aspirations. Are you or are you not going to support democratic rights in Egypt. There are many commentators and columnists in the US who are writing that they support Egyptian democracy but only if they vote for people we like. Of course it doesn't work that way. It's an either/or situation, and frankly I cannot imagine a scenario that is more likely to bring to power a radical Islamist government in Egypt than to continue to suppress the democratic aspirations of the people there. We can no longer allow our fear of the MB from crushing Egyptian democracy.
A: For more info on this, see Geoffrey's recent blog post on the unfounded fears of Egyptian democracy: http://blog.amnestyusa.org/middle-east/critics-of-egyptian-democracy-fear-of-a-muslim-brother-planet/
Question: The media has been disappointing in covering the events in Egypt, there has been alot of misinformation, under-reporting and blatant lies. Shouldn't the media be held accountable for its propaganda? Has Amnesty International any plans to work with media so that their coverage is more balanced and comes from a Human Rights perspective?
Answer: I've found much of the coverage to be superficial, and even today they seem more concerned with attacks on journalists than the many assaults on Egyptians. But the story of the streets did come through. I did end up watch Al Jazeera a lot, but even in the Times, CNN the story was there. If you really wanted to see bad coverage, watch the Egyptian state-controlled TV which showed mostly empty streets and pro-Mubarak rallies. But yes, we do work with reporters and try to ensure they have an HR background of knowledge. It never shows through enough and we will always have to work on this.
A: We've issued numerous press releases to media outlets on the crisis, can you view them here: http://www.amnestyusa.org/egypt/news/page.do?id=YCN0897050000E
Also we've been posting news and analysis on our blog: http://blog.amnestyusa.org/tag/egypt/
Question: Is the Army backing up anti-government protestors and how much support do the pro-government supporters have from the Police?
Answer: That's two different answers I think. I want to be honest and say I don't know what is going on in the military. One day they protect the protesters, the next day they step back. Today they were there in protection. One prediction I do have is that the military will come out of this in an even stronger position. The police is another matter. Poorly paid, poorly trained, they have a reputation for thuggery that showed through the demonstrations. One name you should remember from this is Khaled Said, a young man in Alexandria who was pulled out this past summer from an internet café and beaten to death by the police. That happens a lot, but in this case people had enough and there were demos all across the country. His name was frequently cited by the protestors in Tahrir Sq. I think if this has a positive outcome one thing we should look for is a serious effort to investigate past crimes by the police and certainly to end the feeling of impunity.
Question: A huge number of refugees live in Egypt. In the Egypt's recent turmoil many countries including Arab nations are evacuating their citizens from Egypt. Even the UN its self started evacuating their staff. Who do you think should protect the refugees?
Answer: Wonderful question. Egypt has not done very well in protecting its refugees, particularly those from Sudan and Somalia. It is a major concern. There have been reports that groups were going around Cairo attacking foreign-looking individuals, but it seemed to be mostly around the protest areas. I have not heard any incidents from the slums where many of the refugees have been forced into. Regardless of outcome, any Egyptian government will need to step up its protection of refugees and to stop sending them back to places where they are at risk for torture and ill-treatment.
Question: Hello Mr. Geoffrey Mock, any updates about the whereabouts of the 2 staff members (and other human rights workers) arrested yesterday?
Answer: Unfortunately, no. I took a pause to check my email and what came through is we still don't know their whereabouts. We are pressing at several levels to try to get information. Obviously we are very concerned, not just for the AI staffers but for the scores of individuals who are not accounted for
A: Please join us in calling for their and other human rights monitors' urgent release! Take action here: http://bit.ly/hRS1f4
Question: Who controls the Army? Is it Mubarak? Are they a separate entity all together?
Answer: The military is tied to Mubarak but is capable of acting independent of him. At times during the protests they have seemed to act to protect him, at others they seem to be on the sidelines. They are a source of national honor, and they take it seriously, and it remains to be seen as to whether they will stake that reputation on protecting him at all costs.
Question: Has there any reaction to the calls to the embassies and the emails that amnesty has been coordinating?
Answer: Callers got a variety of responses. Some were very very friendly. Others were able to just get their name. The point was we swamped the embassy with hundreds if not more than a thousand calls. Consulates too. That was the No. 1 thing the people in Egypt were saying they wanted. Even if you just got a name to a person there, that call got registered and the point was made. So thank you so much to all of you who took action. Please don't stop now.
A: For info on how to call an Egyptian embassy or consulate near you see: http://blog.amnestyusa.org/middle-east/take-action-and-support-the-egyptian-people/
Question: I know it is important for people who protest to know there are people who support them in their struggle. With the internet and phones down, do you know if the people in the protest are realizing there are people around the world supporting them? And if not, is there a way for us to get the word to them so they know they are not alone in their fight and many in the world believe in it.
Answer: The internet went back up two days ago. And people there knew anyhow. It is impossible to stop communications. IN fact, the assault on social media and communications was one important indication of the level of unreality that Mubarak government was living in
Question: Given the USA strong support for Mubarak , should the ICC prosecute those involved in extraordinary rendition which violates International law and be implicated in the crimes Mubarak commits.
Answer: Thank you for this. Let me point you to my blog post on the new VP Omar Suleiman and his connection to extraordinary renditions. http://blog.amnestyusa.org/waronterror/torture-and-abuse-in-egypt-the-north-carolina-connection/
Bottom line these violated international law, and those responsible should be held accountable.
Question: Do you think any foreign militaries will get involved?
Answer: Not at this point. That is something the Egyptian people don't want happening.
Question: Who is likely to be next president should Mubarak leave? And what affect will that have on Mideast politics the US and Israel?
Answer: I am afraid to pick, but the stories today indicate that if HM steps down then VP Suleiman will become president. That will be acceptable to the people on the street only if there are credible and strong conditions that will lead to democratic change. As for relations with Israel and the US. That's hard to predict; however, good relations with both countries are in the national interest of Egypt regardless of government. I'm hopeful that regardless of ideology that national interest will continue to dictate policy, and is done so with greater popular and democratic support that it has now
Question: There has been speculation that the attacks on journalist and human rights activists are preparation for a larger and harsher clampdown. My own feeling is that if the government does not mind the bad rep from repressing international journalists and Amnesty activists, they will care even less about killing common Egyptians. Do you think these steps are a prelude for worse things to come?
Answer: Well, that's what I was worried about 10 p.m. EST last night. It sure seemed that it was a concerted effort to shut down everyone in the press and civil society who can report on what is going on and who can help the protesters. It was quite a relief to wake up to find everything calm. But that was yesterday and nobody at Tahrir Square is letting down their guard. By the way my favorite tweet of the week: In the future tourists will come to Egypt not to see the pyramids, but Tahrir Square.
Question: What will be the policy of US after fall of Mubarak? Will US try to push Egypt again to dictatorship for the benefit of Israel?
Answer: I don't think dictatorship was in the US best interests, although I admit even today I'm seeing many columns in papers arguing dark clouds about Egyptian democracy. I think that just means that the Egyptian people are smarter than many US columnists. The same holds true for Israel, though its' also clear that the government there has a hard time seeing t he advantages. I think they let their fears overwhelm the advantages of basing relations on democratic support for continuing relations
Question: Why do you think this has gone so differently from how the Tunisian people ousted their dictator?
Answer: Simply, the Tunisian military as I understand it, stepped in pretty early and cut Ben Ali loose very early in the game. The Egyptian military, which traditionally doesn't like to interfere in domestic politics has been more cautious. Beyond that, I have to say I don't know. If there is one question I would most love to know, it's the thinking of the Egyptian military on this matter
Question: Mubarak has been in office since the 1980's, so why exactly are these protests happening now? Did something happen to spark public outrage?
Answer: These protests didn't come out of nowhere. There have been numerous protests in the past, and each has been regularly crushed, often with violence. And after each, the people returned to their homes and bruised. This one was different. I mentioned earlier the death of Khaled Said which galvanized the people unlike other police deaths. Then came Tunisia. The combination seemed to change the psychology of the protests. The one thing I heard the most from the streets was "we've lost our fears." That was what was different
A: For more on Khaled Said see our blog: http://blog.amnestyusa.org/tag/khaled-said/
Question: Does anyone see a pattern of behavior over there and what is happening? Is this something that is being orchestrated from the back by someone or some country to create chaos in an already fragile society in Egypt and other countries?
Answer: No. Mubarak and his allies have made this point so it's worth raising. But this is Egyptian 100 percent Question: Everyone seems Confused about the Pro Mubarak Demonstrators. The Egyptian people are calling them Mubarak's paid Thugs and police dressed in regular clothes. Are there really any regular people who support Mubarak?
Answer: Of course. His party got 97 percent of the vote in the fall parliamentary elections! All autocrats, dictators, authoritarians have large numbers of individuals whose work depends on them. Then there are just people who are fearful of change. And 30 years of having the same person telling you what to do can be comforting to some degree and makes change scary. But credible reports indicate that many of the people who were attacking the protestors had ties to the police, security forces, or were unemployed and need the money for work.
Question: Nicholas Kristof ends his excellent report today with this: "Innaharda, ehna kullina Misryeen! Today, we are all Egyptians!" I've posted that as my FB status.
Answer: Yes, we are all Egyptians. Tomorrow the Syrians are having a Facebook-organized rally. Algeria is getting rid of the State of Emergency -- and yes, this entire situation might very well have been different if Mubarak had ended the 30 years of SOE -- and a new government in Jordan.
Question: From social media like Twitter the pro-democracy movement seems to be largely a youth movement. Is this a correct characterization?
Answer: Yes and no. It was organized by social media. But the people who actually showed up were a range of ages and communities. It was truly a national event, women were there, Copts were there. Social media played an important role, but it can be overstated. On the other hand it was simply extraordinary being here in Durham, NC, and following each day the Twitter reports in real time.
A: For more on the role of social media in unrest across the Middle East and North Africa see our video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apUtmzbx3vo
Question: Authority for emergency law in Egypt was extended fairly recently (by the Egyptian Parliament). Should they repeal that authority now?
Answer: AI has for a long time documented a series of HR abuses in Egypt: Torture, unfair trials, military courts, prolonged administrative detention, attacks on freedom of press and association, etc. All these need to be address, but each and every one of them comes from the State of Emergency. If that remains, nothing changes.
Question: At this point it appears that Mubarak's days are certainly numbered. Indeed, Egyptians are calling today Mubarak's "Day of Departure." But what happens the day after? What can the United States (and more specifically grassroots activists with Amnesty and other such groups) do to support an Egyptian transition, promote and develop democratic institutions, and ensure that in the future Egyptian frustrations can be vented in public forums, rather than through possibly violent street demonstrations?
Answer: Yes, that will be important. Amnesty will not walk away after the protests. In fact we'll be using Tunisia as a model for action. We've develop an Action Plan for Change in Tunisia, and I expect we will develop one for Egypt as well.
In addition, Amnesty is putting together a military, security, police response asking the US concerning our military equipment sales to Egypt (and possibly other sections will do the same with the EU). The nature of the ask is still in discussion.
Question: Greetings FROM Egypt everyone!
Answer: Welcome to you too. There are a lot of inspired Americans today because of what you are doing
Geoffrey Mock: Secondly, AI is one of the co-sponsors of a rally in Washington DC tomorrow at "Rally for Rights in Egypt" in Lafayette Park – Washington, D.C. (2:45pm). If you are in the DC area, please come out to show support. Nothing has been accomplished, and the best way to keep the people of Egypt strong in the streets exercising their democratic rights is to express that we are with them.
A: RSVP to the rally here: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=198225160191767&pending
Geoffrey Mock: OK, thank you all for participating. I need to run now, but if there are other questions, I will check back later Thank you so much