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Friday, October 25, 2013

It’s ‘Sisi-Mania,’ as Nationalist Fervor Sweeps Through Egypt

In the months since Egypt’s armed forces removed former President Mohamed Morsi and installed an interim government of their choosing, a nationalist fervor has swept the country, spurred on in part by a robust media campaign that has hailed the army as heroes and promoted an image of its commander, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, as a benevolent leader who stands beyond reproach.

A recent essay in Al-Ahram Weekly, an English-language magazine published by the flagship state-run newspaper, provides a glimpse of the high praise that many in the Egyptian media are singing for the general, who is described in its pages as a man whose “freshly washed countenance and youthful zeal shield a herculean strength and nerves of steel” and who “wears the feathers of a dove but has the piercing eyes of a hawk.”

The writer, an actress named Lubna Abdel Aziz, recalled in glowing terms General Sisi’s role in Mr. Morsi’s ouster, which came after millions of Egyptians called for him to resign in a series of demonstrations held across the country last June. Before that point, General Sisi had served in Mr. Morsi’s Cabinet.

He took over as defense minister in 2012, but by 30 June 2013, there was no doubt in his mind that he would do what is right. He responded to the 33 million voices clamoring in the streets. Yes, the Eagle had landed.

His bronzed, gold skin, as gold as the sun’s rays, hides a keen, analytical fire within. He challenges the world not with bellows and bravura but with a soft, somber reproach, with an audible timbre of compassion.

There is almost poetry in his leadership, but the ardor of the sun is in his veins. He will lead us to victory and never renounce the struggle, and we will be right there at his side.

Ms. Abdel Aziz, whose praise of General Sisi drew on quotes from William Shakespeare, Napoleon Bonaparte and the Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu, also ridiculed Western government for a failure to comprehend Egyptians’ innate love for the military, even when it behaved dictatorially.

Let the deaf, dumb and blind media and governments of the West say what they will, Al-Sisi submitted to the will of 33 million Egyptians in the street and 50 million in their homes, crying for salvation. The people led â€" Al-Sisi followed.

What the West cannot comprehend is the warm affinity between people and army in Egypt, which has endured for centuries. Gamal Abdel-Nasser is a recent example, even when he ruled with the firm grip of a military dictator.

The essay was not Ms. Abdel Aziz’s first public commentary on the West. In a March 2013 interview with Tahrir TV, an independent Egyptian channel, she described the surprise she felt on a trip to the United States as an adult, years after first visiting as a student, to find that Jews “just about own” the country.

According to a recording of that program posted online with English subtitles by the Middle East Media Research Institute, or Memri â€" an Arabic media watchdog founded by a former Israeli intelligence officer â€" Ms. Abdel Aziz explained told the interviewer that Jews “have got the country in their grip.”

It added, “It is said that every three or four Americans works for a Jew.”

Lubna Abdel Aziz, an actress who wrote an essay praising Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, expressed anti-Semitic beliefs during an Egyptian television interview in March 2013.

“Congress and the Senate, and every administration, whether Republican and Democrat, must stand at attention for them. If they are not happy with someone, that’s it, he’s gone,” said Ms. Abdel Aziz, adding that she believed Jews controlled “both the media and the economy.” Her interviewer readily agreed, firmly nodding that, “The entire economy is Jewish.”

Despite the pro-military drumbeat from much of the country’s state and private media, some Egyptians remain unconvinced, particularly Islamist supporters of the ousted president, who continue to hold demonstrations against his removal and to engage in periodic clashes with the security forces in towns across the country. Since the military removed Mr. Morsi from power, the police and armed forces have killed hundreds of protesters, including at least 377 on August 14 when it dispersed a large pro-Morsi tent city in eastern Cairo in what Human Rights Watch has called “the most serious incident of mass unlawful killings in modern Egyptian history.”

Nevertheless, expressions of what Ms. Abdel Aziz called “Sisi-mania” can be found all over Cairo, according to a piece written by Ursula Lindsey, a writer based in the Egyptian capital, for an opinion blog published in The Times.

Ms. Lindsey described a candy store near her home that sold chocolates decorated with tiny portraits of the general, as well as a Tumblr entitled “Where else have you seen Sisi today?” that shows pictures of the General’s name or likeness used to imbue everything from wedding parties to fast food with a dose of nationalist energy.

Ms. Lindsey, who wrote The Times’s opinion blog post, said that some examples of “Sisi-mania” were no doubt examples of “sycophancy” on the part of people who wanted to curry favor with a new regime, but she cautioned that viewing the enthusiasm for the military solely through that lens missed what may be a deeper dynamic at work.

People don’t love their army because of how powerful it is, but because of how much they want to overcome their own feelings of powerlessness. To the great majority of Egyptians, the army is synonymous with the country, and supporting it is a way of wishing that Egypt will become all the things it currently isn’t: strong, independent and prosperous.

Amro Ali, an Egyptian scholar living in Australia, drew attention to a picture posted to Twitter that showed a collage of jumbled nationalist images with General Sisi at their center. In the picture, the general had his arm around a bride in a pharaonic mask as he rode a white horse across a battlefield while the Pyramids looked on. Each Pyramid was emblazoned with the face of an Egyptian leader: two showed the faces of the former presidents Anwar el-Sadat and Gamal Abdel Nasser, and the third showed General Sisi’s face. At the bottom of the image it says, in Arabic, “This is Egypt, O Americans, you Gypsies!”

Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, an Egyptian journalist, posted a picture to Twitter that showed a tray filled with “General Sisi chocolate.”

Nervana Mahmoud, an Egyptian blogger based in Britain, drew attention to a picture posted to Twitter of Bahria Galal, a Cairo chocolatier whose Sisi chocolates were featured in a series of photos published by Reuters.

An Egyptian activist who posts to Twitter under the name the Big Pharoah drew attention to other expressions of love for the military: a line of jewelry using the general’s name as a style motif that is sold by a store called “Nina’s Bling Bling Gallery,” and a sandwich named after him served by a fast-food chain, Amo Hosny. In its advertisement, the sandwich appeared to be stuffed with almost a dozen little General Sisis.

The nationalist fervor and enthusiasm for General Sisi may have even clipped the comedic wings of Bassem Youssef, a well-known political satirist and nightly talk show host who has been lauded as “Egypt’s Jon Stewart.” Mr. Youssef’s show returned from a four-month hiatus on Friday to broadcast its first episode since the military ouster of Mr. Morsi, a politician who was his most frequent satirical target.

Writing about the season’s first episode, David Kenner, an editor of Foreign Policy magazine, wrote that at those moments when Mr. Youssef did turn his satirical attention to the country’s military rulers, it was “the fervent masses of Sisi supporters who come in for grief â€" not the general himself.”

In one segment, he took aim at the new fad of plastering Sisi’s face on sweets. A baker comes out bearing a Sisi cake and Sisi cupcakes â€" he also sells a plain loaf of “Rabaa” bread, named after the pro-Morsi sit-in outside Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adaweya Mosque.

“I’ll take a half kilo,” Youssef says, suitable impressed with the cupcakes. The baker’s eyes narrow in suspicion at the small size of the order. Do you really like Sisi, he asks?

Youssef, suitably chastened, gives in. “O.K., O.K., I’ll take all of it.”

Islamists Repress Syria’s Citizen Journalists

A video report from northern Syria in February, produced by the opposition activist Rami Jarrah of the ANA New Media Association.

Syrian media activists working to establish a credible alternative to the state broadcaster in areas of the country held by rebel groups were dealt a blow this month in the northeastern province of Raqqa, where a radio station that aired criticism of Qaeda-linked militants was closed down by the Islamists and one citizen journalist was kidnapped.

According to the British-Syrian activist Rami Jarrah, who has been working to transform a network of media activists into citizen journalists in areas of Syria outside government control, militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, raided his group’s office in Raqqa on Oct. 15, seizing equipment, two weeks after they detained one of his journalists, Rami al-Razzouk.

Speaking by Skype from the Turkish city of Gaziantep, Mr. Jarrah told The Lede that the militant group’s attacks on his ANA New Media Association came after residents of Raqqa had complained on a call-in radio show about repression by the Islamists, who control the town. In addition to closing down the Radio ANA broadcast center there, the militants have also carried out reprisals against callers, Mr. Jarrah said. After one man voiced concern about ISIS on the air, the activist said, his cousin was kidnapped by the Islamists.

ANA has also angered the Islamists by posting video online in which other rebel factions criticize ISIS.

Video posted on YouTube last month by Syrian activists, said to show a brigade of Islamist rebels announcing their break with the Qaeda-linked Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.

Mr. Jarrah, who adopted the pseudonym Alexander Page to report on the uprising from Damascus in early 2011, has been a frequent critic of the Islamist militants he accuses of hijacking the peaceful, secular uprising his network of media activists has helped to document on video.

The Syrian activist who writes as Edward Dark â€" who supported the initial uprising against President Bashar al-Assad but has recoiled in horror from the Islamist militancy â€" has also helped to document the growing influence of ISIS and the abuse of non-Islamist activists by the militants.

In a sign of how complex the relationships between secular activists like Mr. Jarrah and Islamist fighters in Syria, he said that he was working to free Mr. Razzouk with the help of an intermediary from Jabhat al-Nusra, another Qaeda-linked Islamist group. The intermediary, he added, confirmed that Mr. Razzouk was being held in the ISIS headquarters in Raqqa last week.

Mr. Jarrah also explained that his group’s relations with the Nusra Front have been strained since they were granted permission by that militant group to set up their office in Raqqa, but gave a false address for their broadcast center there.

The ISIS militants, Mr. Jarrah said, have accused Mr. Razzouk of being a spy because he works for an organization that is financed by Western donors. The ANA New Media Association relies of stipends from nongovernmental organizations dedicated to fostering civil society and free expression in Syria, according to Mr. Jarrah.

On his Twitter feed, Mr. Jarrah drew attention this week to a statement from the American Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, urging the release of Mr. Razzouk. Writing on Facebook, Mr. Ford said, “By targeting activists and fighters who are not al-Qaida followers, ISIS works against the Syrian Revolution’s principles of dignity, freedom, and human rights.”

Mr. Jarrah has also been circulating the following petition to media organizations, asking for their support:

Nearly three years ago, Syrian people took to the streets and sparked a popular revolution, demanding freedom and opposing a repressive regime, its security apparatus and its pervasive censorship.

This revolution birthed a vibrant and creative civil society, and a quickly developing, pluralistic media landscape. Media activists were then, and have remained, primary targets of the regime’s retaliation as it attempts to control access to information. As areas in Syria became liberated with the strengthening of an armed opposition, journalists and media activists hoped they could then operate safely.

However, certain armed groups in “liberated” areas are increasingly acting with hostility towards anyone opposing their behavior or disagreeing with their ideology. As a consequence, journalists and media activists are increasingly harassed, kidnapped and murdered.

On October 1st, forces from the armed group the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” (ISIS) raided Radio Ana offices in Raqqa, shortly after kidnapping the journalist and activist Rami al-Razzouk at a checkpoint on his way to Toubqa. On October 15th, they raided the office a second time, taking possession of all radio and communications equipment hence ANA’s office was shut down.

This example of abuse against press shall not remain unnoticed, nor should it be considered as an isolated case. The “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” (ISIS) is targeting the newborn independent Syrian press in a deliberate strategy to crush press freedom and to impose a renewed and constant censorship upon the Syrian people.

We, the undersigned,

Refuse any form of intimidation against journalists, citizen journalists, media activists or media organizations, by any group, in any context and under any pretext. Press freedom and freedom of expression are inalienable human rights. Any abuse against these universal rights should be condemned and opposed.

We call on the whole Syrian civil society, its political institutions and media groups, to take relevant actions to expose these practices, to oppose them, and to protect the media from these dangers. We demand the immediate release of all detained journalists and citizen journalists held by any group. Additionally, we call on international media and those organizations in support of press freedom to join this initiative and to take relevant action for the safety of journalists and freedom of speech in Syria.

Rio Police Officer Indicted for Torture While Lecturing on ‘Smart Policing’ in New York

Vanessa Coimbra, a police officer from Rio de Janeiro, spoke at a Google Ideas conference in New York on Tuesday, just hours after she was indicted by prosecutors back home.Robert Mackey/The New York Times Vanessa Coimbra, a police officer from Rio de Janeiro, spoke at a Google Ideas conference in New York on Tuesday, just hours after she was indicted by prosecutors back home.

A Brazilian police officer who spoke at a technology conference in New York on Tuesday about the potential of a new smartphone app to aid in the “pacification” of Rio de Janeiro’s lawless favelas was indicted the same day by prosecutors back home in connection with a notorious case of torture and murder by her unit in July.

The officer, Vanessa Coimbra, appeared on stage at the Google Ideas summit on “Conflict in a Connected World” to describe field testing of the Smart Policing Android app, designed to promote accountability by transforming every beat cop’s smartphone into a wearable camera.

Three hours before Ms. Coimbra’s presentation, she was charged with failing to prevent the torture and murder of a man suspected by fellow officers from the Pacifying Police Unit in Rio’s Rocinha favela of having information on drug dealers. Prosecutors have been under pressure to act in the case since the mysterious disappearance of the Rocinha resident, Amarildo Dias de Souza, became a focus of demonstrations across Brazil this summer.

Video recorded on Tuesday at the Google Ideas summit in New York during a presentation on the development and testing of the new Smart Policing app for Android phones.

As our colleague Simon Romero reported, earlier this month prosecutors charged 10 officers from the Rocinha Pacifying Police Unit, one of several new clusters in the city’s slums known by the Portuguese acronym U.P.P., with direct involvement in the torture and murder of the suspect known simply as Amarildo.

The front page of Wednesday's edition of the Brazilian newspaper O Dia. The front page of Wednesday’s edition of the Brazilian newspaper O Dia.

It is not clear when the officer learned of her indictment, and even initial reports on her lecture in the Brazilian press failed to make the connection between her turn on stage in New York and the new charges against her and 14 fellow officers for failing to stop the torture. When she flew home on Wednesday, however, her name was on the front page of the Brazilian newspaper O Dia in a report on the 25 accused officers. That night, reporters at the paper connected the dots.

A spokeswoman for the Rio police force told The Lede that Ms. Coimbra’s indictment in the Amarildo case by prosecutors from Brazil’s organized crime unit came as a surprise to her superiors. She was selected to represent the department at the conference because her unit had been involved in preliminary testing of the Smart Policing app this year and she was the only officer from that group who speaks English.

In public relations material, the Rio force has also been keen to draw attention to the fact that it now includes an increasing number of female officers and Ms. Coimbra showed a photograph of her new commanding officer, Maj. Pricilla de Oliveira, with children in the favela.

Video posted on YouTube by the Rio de Janeiro governor’s office last week stressed the increasing number of female police officers serving in Pacifying Police Units.

Ms. Coimbra’s co-presenter on Tuesday was Robert Muggah of the Igarapé Institute, a Brazilian think tank that is developing the software as part of a non-profit project supported by Google. Mr. Muggah declined to comment on the charges against Ms. Coimbra. In their presentation, however, he made it clear that the goal of the app was to promote accountability and transparency and to make interactions between officers and the public safer for both sides by producing a record of every incident.

Although officers in Rocinha were involved in field tests of the app in July, when the torture and killing took place, there is apparently no video evidence that could help prosecutors since the testing was at a preliminary phase, and primarily technical in nature at the time. Rather than recording every minute of every officer’s day, in recent months the cameras were simply dropped off with individual officers once or twice a week and then collected at the end of the day to check the technical quality of the recordings, the impact of the software on battery life and the reliability of 3G networks in the neighborhood, to see if real-time streaming would be possible in favelas where basic services are often of poor quality.

The software was unveiled at the Google Ideas conference â€" designed to “bring attention to tools and approaches designed to empower people in the face of conflict or repression” â€" because the company had supported the development of the app for phone running its Android operating system. A Google spokesperson told The Lede, “Smartphones can be used to build stronger relationships between citizens and their government. The Igarapé Institute has explored this interaction in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, and we’ve pitched in to design technology that helps.”

Although the brutality of police officers in Brazil is well-documented, there is little doubt that the work of trying to bring law and order to the more than 1,000 favelas in Rio that have only recently been brought under the control of the state, after years of domination by organized crime gangs, is dangerous and difficult.

In official literature, the government of Rio refers the new presence of police officers in the city’s previously autonomous slums in starkly military terms. One introduction to the U.P.P.s notes that they have been deployed in recent years in “the pacified communities” only after “the occupation of the territory by security forces.”

A video report from the newspaper O Estadão de São Paulo on a patrol of the Rocinha favela in 2012 by officers from the Pacifying Police Unit set up that year.

Writing in the Huffington Post in August, Mr. Muggah argued that while “there are many serious shortcomings of the U.P.P. experiment,” a “crisis of credibility is occurring at precisely the moment when evidence shows that pacification works.”

Consider the numbers. Before pacification, Rio registered roughly 42 homicides per 100,000 people in 2005 â€" with most victims consisting of poor black youth. Today, the homicide rate has declined to 26 homicides per 100,000. While the murder rate is intolerably high, the improvements are irrefutable. Rio de Janeiro is safer for all of its residents than in the past.

As an official history explains, the U.P.P. only established a foothold in the Rocinha favela in late September of last year. The force remains garrisoned in a station made up of shipping containers on the side of the neighborhood’s steep hills. According to prosecutors, the victim known simply as Amarildo was tortured to death in a small tank behind those containers.

A video report produced by the Rio governor’s office at that time showed the first commander of the Rocinha U.P.P., Maj. Edson Santos, standing in front of those containers.

Video of the commander of the Rocinha U.P.P., Maj. Edson Santos, standing in front of a makeshift police station in 2012.

According to a detailed account of the killing of Amarildo released on Tuesday by the prosecutor’s office, the fatal torture took place in that location on the orders of Major Santos. (The Brazilian newspaper O Globo published an infographic based on the account on Wednesday.)

According to prosecutor Carmen Elisa Bastos, Lt. Luiz Felipe de Medeiros, Sgt. Reinaldo Gonçalves and Officers Anderson Maia and Douglas Vital tortured Amarildo after the bricklayer was taken, following orders of Major Edson Santos. They wanted to know the location of weapons and drugs hidden in the slum, after Operation Armed Peace had not led to results.

According to the testimonies, for about 40 minutes Amarildo underwent asphyxiation with a bag over his head and mouth, shocks with a taser gun, waterboarding in bucket with water from the air-conditioning unit of the U.P.P. in which blood traces were found.

According to the prosecutor, 11 policemen were ordered by the Lieutenant to stay inside the container and could hear the violence. Twelve others stayed on the lookout. Also according to the testimonies, Maj. Edson Santos remained in the container upstairs, in front of the site where the torture happened. Witnesses also reported hearing a request to bring a motorcycle plastic cover to wrap the body in, the noise of tape and of the body being removed from the tank through the roof in front of the woods.

The charges against the officers in the Amarildo case are the latest blow to a project that has been financed largely through corporate donations. In August, one month after the disappearance of Amarildo grew into a nationwide scandal, the Brazilian business tycoon Eike Batista, whose annual contributions of nearly $10 have paid for U.P.P. equipment, uniforms, weapons, ammunition and training withdrew his financial support for the project.