THE ABSURD TIMES — STILL

The Absurd Times WIKILEAKS TRANSCRIPt

Posted in Uncategorized by @honestcharlie on May 20, 2012

In case you can’t get RT.

WIKILEAKS TRANSCRIPT

Episode 4

“[T]his is the struggle, this is the freedom, this is democracy that we are fighting for. It has a cost and we have to pay the cost, and the cost might be very expensive as we have paid a high cost in Bahrain, and we are willing to pay that for the changes that we are fighting for.”-Nabeel RajabNabeel Rajab, who was arrested on Saturday 5th of May, is a lifelong Bahraini activist and critic of the Al Khalifa regime. A member of a formerly staunch pro-regime family, Rajab has agitated for reform in Bahrain since his return from university in 1988. Along with the Bahraini-Danish human rights defender Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, he helped establish the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights in 2002. After years of working on hot issues in Bahrain, such as discrimination among sects and migrant labor rights, he became a face for the Bahrain uprising of February 14 2011, after a courageous sit-in at Pearl Roundabout. Since then, he has been a public face for the revolution, waging a social media war on Twitter with PR companies working for the regime. After al-Khawaja was imprisoned, he led protests for his release. He has endured beatings, arrests and legal harrassment for engaging in pro-democracy demonstrations. On Saturday 5th of May, he was arrested at Manama airport , and charged the next day with encouraging and engaging in “illegal protests.” Nabeel Rajab remains in detention at the time of broadcast.

Alaa Abd El-Fattah is a longtime Egyptian political activist, programmer and blogger. He was imprisoned for 45 days in 2006 for protesting under the Mubarak regime, and again imprisoned for 68 days for protesting under the post-revolutionary military government, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). He also played a role in the Egyptian revolution of 2011. Initially abroad, El-Fattah helped route around Mubarak’s internet blockade. At the height of the protests he returned to Egypt and participated in the defense of Tahrir Square against security forces. It was after Mubarak stepped down, engaging in protests against the SCAF, that he was again arrested and imprisoned in October 2011. El-Fattah’s parents were human rights campaigners under Anwar Sadat; his sister Mona Seif became a Twitter star during the 2011 Egyptian revolution, and is a founder of the No Military Trials for Civilians group – formed in response to his imprisonment. The campaign for his release – curated online under the #FreeAlaa hashtag – brought the injustices of the SCAF regime to the attention of the wider world. El-Fattah’s son, Khaled, was born while he was in detention. He was released in December, and was under a travel ban at the time the interview was filmed, which was lifted when all charges against him were dropped, in early May.

Assange notes, “Is the Arab spring an unfolding dream or an impossible fantasy? I look past the media spin and conspire directly with its human participants.”
Links to Networks Hosting the Show
RT – English
RT – Arabic
RT – Russian
RT – Spanish
L’Espresso – Italian
Raw Pre-Edit Transcript (2hours, 50 minutes):

Julian:
Ah, Nabeel.
Nabeel:
Hello, good to see you.
Julian:
You too.
Nabeel:
Eh, you’re making a lot of trouble for the Americans. Not like me, only for Bahrain.
Julian:
How did you get through?
Nabeel:
Good to meet you. How are you?
Julian:
Alright.
Nabeel:
Everything was ok. I’ll just put my phone off, so… Yeah, everything was good. How are you?
Julian:
I’m ok. We’ve had… we have had such a big day yesterday. It was quite exhausting. You probably haven’t heard yet, but we released all these files from a big company…
Nabeel:
Might you on Bahrain?
Julian:
We don’t know yet, actually. There’s a little bit… We looked for your name and there’s some press reports but… you know, it’s just starting, we only have .001 per cent of this material released now but…
Nabeel:
It’s a lot of work… Julian… I mean, how long is going to take you to finish them?
Julian:
I think probably about four months.
[crew gets Nabeel settled]
Julian:
Are we rolling?
Nabeel:
Tell me how it’s going to go.
Julian:
I’m going to…
Nabeel:
I mean, this is recording? Tell me when it is recording and whether it is not.
Julian:
Um, it is recording all the time… but we probably… We won’t use this, it’ll just be, like, the introductory images and the sit down and say hello and then we’re waiting for Nab… we’re waiting for Alaa and Alaa will call and we’ll go ‘Ah! This is… er, I’ll just explain…
Julian:
So Alaa’s on the other end and he has Skype and he’s in Cairo, and he’s an activist from Cairo. He wrote a… – and he’s been in prison several times in 2006 and more recently – and he wrote this very famous piece in Egypt about five months ago called The Dream, which is about the… seeing the Egyptian revolution and what happened in Tahrir Square as a demonstration of an idea, which is a future state, that Egypt should be in, and… that was necessary to show all of Egypt and other parts of the world what this future state would be. And so to that degree, it was… there was a performance involved, you know, they were telling a story in this confrontation in Tahrir Square, and to make everyone inspired by this story – because why would you want to do anything if it’s not for something? So it’s not just that you’re against, you know, that we hate the corruption of the Mubarak regime…
Nabeel:
It’s how to build our country.
Julian:
But we want something better, and we can get something better, so… that’s Alaa, and he will call soon… and we need to check the audio and so on because the connection… the connection’s not so good.
Nabeel:
And how long we going to speak all of us, the whole thing?
Julian:
So we’re…
Nabeel:
How much am I allowed to speak?
Julian:
Um, well, you just…
Nabeel:
I mean, I just keep discussing with him.
Julian:
You just be polite, you just be polite, you know, just like normal.
Nabeel:
Ok, and I’m going to sit all the time here?
Julian:
Yep. So, you could ask ‘What do you think, Julian or Alaa?’ or … [inaudible]
Nabeel:
Oh, it’s a discussion between three of us?
Julian:
Yep. I mean, to some degree I’ll be saying, you know: ‘I want to move more on to talk about this issue’ if someone speaks about too much detail on one subject, but… it’s fairly easy just, um…
Nabeel:
Alright.
Julian:
Don’t speak… don’t speak too long about any one thing.
Nabeel:
Focus and concentrating.
[crew says final running time]
Julian:
Twenty-six minutes, yup.
Nabeel:
Really? So we’ll speak two hours for this, huh?
Julian:
[over crew]: About an hour, and we might release the whole hour on the internet but what will go on TV will be this 26 minutes. Yeah. So, for that reason, don’t speak too long about one thing, or just look to see whether I am getting bored or you know… [crew: he can touch you to stop] and I’ll say ‘What about…?’ something or other, or ‘Alaa, what do you think about that?’ or something [inaudible]

[crew: Julian's got a long list of questions]
Julian:
Well, it’s actually… it’s a relatively short list…
Nabeel:
Are you active in your Twitter account?
Julian:
I don’t have a Twitter account.
Nabeel:
I’ve seen one today.
Julian:
I have a… there’s a WikiLeaks account.
Nabeel:
No, no, yours.
Julian:
No, it’s fake.
Nabeel:
Ah, it’s fake, yeah?
Julian:
Yeah, it has… there’s a fake one has 52,000 followers, it’s fake, it’s not me. It’s some…
Nabeel:
But is it bad one, to try to spoil your reputation or name, or just doing good job?
Julian:
Um, no, I think they are just trying… they’re using it to sell some products or something… so they’re using it to.. there’s some..
Nabeel:
And did you say that, it’s fake?
Julian:
Yeah. Yeah, it’s fake. 52,000 followers though [inaudible]… I don’t know, they’re… like mobile phones in Latin America… It’s run by some Latin American. This is Julian Assange underscore… and we had a huge legal fight with Twitter… and we got the trade name and then someone else tried to take the trademark and then we spent five months fighting with…
Nabeel:
It’s very complicated, Twitter. I have a problem also trying to… because I have 5/6 fake name also trying to spoil my name.
Julian:
Ah, now that’s actually something I wanted to ask you about. I noticed for Facebook and Twitter suddenly at some point it seems like the Bahraini administration spent a lot of effort on them and all of a sudden there were thousands of tweets from pro-regime people but not before a certain point.
Nabeel:
They are smartest government in using social media.
Julian:
And was it…? It wasn’t… and it didn’t seem like it was just normal supporters of the regime.
Nabeel:
It’s PR companies.
Julian:
Propaganda, yeah. It had the flavour of propaganda.
Nabeel:
Yeah, it’s the PR companies. They are the smartest…
Julian:
And some of the accounts didn’t exist before.
Nabeel:
Yeah well, first of all Bahrainis become very active in Twitter, they might be the most active nation in the Arab world now on Twitter. That’s why you see I’m the fourth in the Arab world when it comes to the followers and number one in my country, and when I open my account three years only in Twitter and all my tweets have been retweeted over 200 or 300 hundred, and that shows the Bahrainis how active they are. Now Bahrain government tried to learn and fight back using the same tools.

[phone rings]
Julian:
Ok, this is Alaa.
Julian:
Alaa.
Alaa:
Hello! Yes, I still don’t see you.
Julian:
You will soon.
Alaa:
Oh, now I see you.
Julian:
You see me and we have here Nabeel from Bahrain.
Alaa:
Eh… [speaks Arabic]
Nabeel:
Good, how is your Dad?
Alaa:
Ah, he’s fine.
Nabeel:
How is your wife and your family – everybody is ok?
Alaa:
Yes everybody’s fine, everybody’s fine.
Nabeel:
Good to see you. We were worried about you.
Alaa:
Very good to see you. Yeah.
Julian:
Yeah, he is out now, but not for long and…
Alaa:
Not for long, yeah. None of us are out too long, eh?
Julian:
Maybe not, but you know we have some free room and board to look forward to, you know. Free accommodation for life.
Alaa:
So… so in which country are you going to be imprisoned?
Julian:
Well, this is an interesting question at the moment, so… house arrest in UK, maybe a little bit in prison in the UK, and maybe imprisoned in Sweden, maybe US. And you, Bahrain?
Nabeel:
And I’m offering Bahrain.
Julian:
He offers Bahrain.
Nabeel:
I’m offering Bahrain.
Julian:
So, let me speak… let me speak a little bit about what we’re going to do and what we will go through. So, you can understand him ok?
Nabeel:
Oh yeah.
Julian:
Ok. So, very good. And Alaa, can you understand both of us?
Alaa:
Yes, yes.
Julian:
Ok, perfect.
Alaa:
But you’re not going to develop a British accent, are you?
Julian:
[laughs] No, I… er, my Australian friends tell me that it’s starting to… it’s starting to seep in, unfortunately. So, I’m going to spend…
Julian:
We will be recording… the show is 25 minutes… we’ll be recording about an hour. We will try and have as much as possible live to tape so you shouldn’t go ‘Oh, I didn’t mean to say that, cut that’, because we won’t do that. So as contiguous as possible. And then after about half an hour we’ll keep going and if we have extra good material from that part of the conversation then we might cut… put those back in, and maybe we’ll release, if we have time, the whole hour onto the internet as well. And, um… So it’s a bit of a conversation. Obviously, you are more important in this than me because I’m here all the time and I want… I want to hear what you guys have got to say. We actually all… started this whole idea is that I was under house arrest and getting very bored, extremely bored, and I wanted some interesting people to talk to, so I thought we will make a way to try and get them here.
Nabeel:
Very interesting for us, not only you.
Julian:
And if I can’t get someone here, like Alaa – he is not allowed to leave the country, he is under… you are under nation arrest, right? Or are you under house arrest? You are under nation arrest?
Alaa:
Yeah, yeah. I mean, who… [inaudible]
Nabeel:
I mean, I practice being… at home, I’m banned from travelling for many months. Thanks God, it’s two or three month now since I am allowed to travel out.
Julian:
Yeah. It’s very… it’s very annoying. I have a friend in the former Soviet Union – she was a little girl at that time – and she said she was trying to get citizenship in another country, and she said: ‘You don’t understand, Julian. I really need to get this citizenship in another country’ and I said: ‘Why are you wasting your time with this?’, because the way we look at the Soviet Union was like just one big prison. This whole series of countries – one big prison – because you couldn’t leave. You didn’t think of it as a prison before, maybe you never wanted to leave, but when someone closes the walls and says you cannot leave then you start to feel it is a prison.
Nabeel:
But, at the same time, as activists… and I think that makes us more famous around the world.
Alaa:
Yeah.
http://problem
Nabeel:
Just a moment… we have a problem with the speaker…
Julian:
We just have a problem with the audio here, Alaa. Is there some music… is there some music at your end?
Alaa:
It’s the call to prayer.
Julian:
It’s the call to prayer, ok. I used to live in Cairo in 2007, just for a few months but I remember…
Alaa:
Yes. [inaudible] I can’t see Nabeel… can you… can you turn the…?
[crew adjust set-up. JA introduces Alaa to the crew, Alaa introduces his crew]
Alaa:
We’re using Emmet’s computer but he is now convinced that there’s, like, US military-grade spyware’s being installed on his machine…
Julian:
It was probably already there, you know, so don’t worry…
Alaa:
We’re using Skype already so it’s not such a precede [?]…
Julian:
We good? Ok, we think we’re… technically we’re all good now. Ok. So, on to subjects…
Nabeel:
Should I look at you, or at him?
[crew advises – off camera chat]
Julian:
So, I want to go through several different things, so people outside of the Arab world don’t know who you are, mostly. So, we’ll just background a little bit about what your family life is, where you came from, who is… who are you – and who are you, Alaa – so people feel that they’re talking to a human being… that I’m talking to a human being, it is not just some Arab, or some Egyptian, but actually a human being. And then I want to look at, um, how much your activism comes from your family and that environment – both of you actually have quite interesting family backgrounds that seem to be enmeshed in some way with what you are doing – perhaps you, as you rebelled against some parts of your family, and Alaa, you come from a deeply activist family in Cairo – and then I want to look at the contrast between what happened in Egypt and what is happening in Bahrain, and the response to that. Egypt is an example of… is held out as the example of the biggest part of the Arab Spring; Tunisia perhaps the most successful, Egypt still going through some pains, and of course, Bahrain is the example of, um, a failure where there was a big movement of activists that was crushed…
Nabeel:
No, you can’t just call that a failure. I mean, it’s not a failure, you shouldn’t use that word failure, but it’s still not yet done.
Julian:
Not yet done, ok, I agree. We had this… you know, I was dealing with… some of our people are Arabic-speaking people from the Middle East and we were in a bit of a… you know, we were dealing with some people on the ground in Bahrain and it was… it was a very bad… a very bad time with them being hunted and with their mobile phones being cut off. Skype is still working for a little… for a little bit, and then many hundreds fleeing Bahrain and quite a number locked up in detention, and in a London detention centre who’d come in from the airport, um… So, and then a look to see why is that? Why did the Egyptian government fall but the Bahraini government has not yet fallen? Is that something to do with… the logistic…
Alaa:
The Egyptian government did not exactly fall yet either, but er..
Julian:
Yeah. A part… some part of the Egyptian government – and actually this perspective that you have on whether there has been a significant and serious change in Egypt is quite important. How much…
Nabeel:
[to crew] I’m not very comfortable… …it’s better now.
Julian:
How much has actually changed…
Alaa:
Yeah, but now I can’t see you Nabeel again.
[NB adjusts]
Julian:
And so how much has actually changed in Egypt… and then in the reporting, so for example, the difference in the reporting by Al-Jazeera on Bahrain versus Egypt. What is the role now of Saudi in this region? And then we’ll go on to… subject to anything you guys have got to say, of course, maybe you think these questions are not so interesting, but… then in looking what were the sort of factors behind this revolutionary period? And I read your … um, very poetic essay that you wrote about five months ago, Alaa, called The Dream and this vision for a future Egypt inspiring and fuelling the protest in Tahrir Square. Is that vision still alive? Is it necessary? Is there an equivalent in Bahrain? Where do you want to see it, where’s it going to go? And… and a few other little things such as… maybe I might even start with one of those – the role of Iraq and what the neocons have said about Iraq being the… the first domino of democracy.
Alaa:
Well yeah, it’s true, but not the way they think.
Julian:
Actually, well, let’s just open with that before we go into your… No, I will actually… I’ll try and stick to going into your family histories first. No. Ok, I think it will be better if we open with this rather controversial question. So, um, people like Cheney and Wolfowitz promoted the view that we should have the Iraq invasion back in 2003 because of weapons of mass destruction, but also because we put in democracy into Iraq and show a democratic society in Iraq and this will… democracy will spread to the other nations and… and now they are claiming that the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, the credit belongs to them because they had the idea to introduce democracy into Iraq. So… [to Nabeel] go first…
Nabeel:
Well, that’s funny, the Americans were not even prepared for those revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. They were… they didn’t know about them, and didn’t know what position they should take till the last weeks and days of the Tunisian… of the American revolution. I mean, I disagree with those people who say ‘we supported the revolution’ in the United States, they have not supported the Egyptian revolution, as they did not with the Tunisian, but when they realise it’s a fact, going to happen, with them or without them, they have to take a position rather than having those government become their enemies in the future and they have taken the right step in the last moment. I don’t think any of the Egyptian or Tunisian thinks that the Americans have supported them, or they think that their revolution because in fact those repressive dictators were supported all these years by the Americans – were strengthened, were empowered, were an agent of America in our region, so I disagree with that statement.
Julian:
Alaa, what do you think about this neocon perspective that all the credit belongs to them for fuelling the Arab Spring?
Alaa:
Yeah well, very funnily I actually agree with Cheney in as much as the credit also for starting the revolution belongs to Ben Ali and Mubarak. Like Iraq was… the war against Iraq was, and the invasion was, like a… it… it shook the Arab populous, and not in any positive sense. In fact, it was the last… it stripped away the last bit of legitimacy that the Arab regimes had, that they failed to protect Iraq. I mean, we were given this course that says, you know, you should accept lack of democracy because at least, you know, we are protecting the borders, we are protecting the unity of the Arab world, we are surrounded by all these imperialistic powers that want to take over and we are protecting you. And so Iraq… anyway, the war against Iraq… and how all of these countries were complicit in it – they even actually provided bases like military bases and some support and opened the Suez canal to them, to the American war ships and so on. So, that level of, er… And, and you could see that, I mean, that’s not just a theory. The first massive protests in Cairo that chanted against Mubarak were actually on the 21st of March 2003 in reaction to the invasion. They started as an anti-war protest. People tried to move towards the American embassy. Mubarak’s police force beat the hell out of us. There were tens of thousands on the street so people immediately shifted to chanting against Mubarak and attacked the national… the ruling party headquarters, which is in downtown Cairo. This happened in Tahrir Square, so it was like a… It only lasted for a couple of days, it was a very mini uprising, but it was kind of like a test run for what would come later. So yeah, they did help bring it about but in… in as much as how they were destructive, and how they proved that only revolution would free us from this whole international order, not just the… you know, the…
Alaa:
I think, the Arab word ‘nizaam’ means more than what comes in your mind when you hear the English word ‘regime’. So when we were chanting against the ‘nizaam’ we were chanting against the whole world order.
Julian:
A friend of mine who’s from that region says that he thinks Cheney was right, that the invasion of Iraq did sow the seeds for part of the Arab Spring, but not in the way that Cheney thinks. He thinks the failure of the United States to suppress the Shi’a in Iraq demonstrated to other states in the MENA region that the United States was not all-powerful in suppressing dissent, and that the US-backed regimes therefore couldn’t rely on the United States to completely suppress the domestic population of the region.
Nabeel:
Well, first of all, I mean, the fact is Iraq is a democratic state now. Aware of our position when it was invaded – and we think that was an invasion, America has no right to invade the country – but the reality is Iraq is a democratic state today and because of the will of the Iraqis who wanted to have democracy and they wanted to get rid of the dictators, and that democracy might have a positive impact, it’s possible, but not that what has been done by Cheney or by… what has been done, because the Americans from the beginning, they didn’t want to change those regimes, they didn’t want to change the regime in Egypt, they didn’t want to change the regime. I mean, at…you see now for example, Bahrain is a good model. Iraq is maybe the closest to us democratic state but Americans are against democracy in Bahrain now.
Julian:
But both of you – Alaa, you’re from Egypt.
Nabeel:
Nabeel, from Bahrain.
Julian:
Sorry. Nabeel, you’re from Bahrain and it is very interesting to compare the trajectories of these two countries, but, Alaa, first I want to turn to your family. And so, you came from a distinguished activist family and your family has supported your activism. Your father gave evidence in your favour at your trial and he’s a distinguished human rights activist in Cairo. Your mother went on a hunger strike to protest your detention. Your wife and sister are tireless bloggers and your son, Khalid, named after one of the martyrs of the Egyptian revolution, was born when you were in jail this December. Um, it’s easy to see with that sort of pedigree how you would naturally become an activist in Cairo. Did you never want to rebel against your family and become a conservative?
Alaa:
Er, no. [laughs] So, I wanted to rebel against… they came from the 70s generation of leftist activism in the universities. My father was actually a communist. Let’s scare you a little bit – he’s an ex-terrorist, he was in an armed communist cell and spent five years in prison. So, they came from a background where people belong to organised factions, had cells, everything was done in secrecy and… and, um… like ideology played an very important role in how you organise and mobilise and so on. So this is what I rebelled against. I did not rebel against being an activist as much, but I… I absolutely rebelled against this notion of belonging to a party or a faction, any secrecy in organising… but I think also I’ve, you know, until 2005 I was very critical of… I was thinking that they were working on a failed project. Um, and so I couldn’t see… so I’d be moved by…
Julian:
When you said they… when you say they were working on …
Alaa:
Oh, my parents. I’m talking about my parents, like my father and my mother, so I mean they continued their activism beyond… sorry, sorry, I’m jumping here… So, I mean in the 70s they belonged to that; of course by the 90s, it’s completely different stories and they are in the human rights movement – my mum is actually working on academic freedom, they are fighting torture, but it felt like, you know, such small steps and such a hopeless case. So, I always respected what they did and I always wanted to do something, but I just couldn’t see how this would work out and it… you know… But my interest in actually being active just build slowly, slowly until that moment, the Iraq war, when I actually met the masses. Like, I kept hearing, you know, there was… there were a couple of uprisings in Egypt in the 70s and my parents were among the population of youth leaders who played a big role in… in, you know, setting the ground for these uprisings to happen. Er, so I would hear about that stuff but it happened… it all happened before I was born so the people did not exist – the masses did not exist – in… in my mind, you know, the biggest protests I’ve seen were maybe a few thousand, a couple of thousand, but seeing tens of thousands meet [?] in Cairo, like willing to resist the police, and not just be subjected to their violence and so on, back in 2003, that was definitely a turning point. So, I had never rebelled fully but I rebelled, you know, in… onspecifics and I… I think I proved to be right.
Julian:
Nabeel, what about you? Where do you come from?
Nabeel:
Well, I am from the biggest Shi’a family in Bahrain and that has a history in the country, openly loyalist to the royal family. We had a grandfather who fought the Portuguese and kicked them out of the country. Then after that we become loyalists to the ruling family so until today we known to be the loyalist family, one of the biggest loyalist families, but I’m the black sheep of the family who’s starting doing the human rights activism since school age, and then I’ve been to university, been active till today. Maybe I’m the most active man in the family and I could…
Julian:
What about the rest of your family?… Some of…
Nabeel:
Now they move, all of them move now. I mean, almost all of them from being loyalist to the… to the… my side. And also [talking over]…
Julian:
Was that because they were painted black because you were black, or did they become…?
Nabeel:
No, they realised… they realised that the family… the ruling elite is very repressive and they were not immune for being a loyalist, even some of their children were put in jail till this moment as I’m talking to you. Many members of the family are in jail, although they were considered as loyalists but they were not immune, and after what happened in the past couple of years in Bahrain, killing a lot of people, detaining, torturing, targeting, discrimination, marginalisation, demolishing, stealing – people, things, house, mosque – have made a lot of Bahrainis to realise this regime is very repressive and very bad, and they move. Many loyalists other than my family, many families of ministers, of governors, who used to be loyalists but now they turn to be opposition.
Julian:
What happened in the past couple of weeks? When we called you to try and get you… get you over here. Um, no, that… that you were in jail so…
Nabeel:
I mean, last time… well, I mean, yeah. I was in… I was just detained for almost half-day because I was protesting – me and my wife and two kids were walking towards the Pearl Roundabout – and then before that month I was beaten up in the street. Few months ago I was kidnapped from my home by masked security persons and taken to another place, after blindfolded and handcuffed and I was tortured, then I was thrown back home.
Julian:
And when was that? In the path of the protests of Bahrain, going back to that?
Nabeel:
Yeah. That’s… that’s after March of last year, and sort of similar harassment I receive. My family, my wife, my children – they do face this harassment too. Now yesterday for example, and I think that is also because of you. When I said in my Twitter account that I’m going to meet Julian Assange and I’m going to speak to him in a TV programme, and last night my house was surrounded by almost 100 policemen – armed, machine guns, and they realised then that I was not at home, then they just ask my family to tell me to come to the public prosecutor today at 4 o’clock. Well, I am here.
Julian:
So, you’re here today at 4 o’clock.
Nabeel:
I was here, and I received that when I was last night, and I think… but I’m used to…
Julian:
What are you going to do?
Nabeel:
I’m going to go back. I mean, I have to face it, you know. I mean, it’s not the first time but this is the struggle, this is the freedom, this is democracy that we are fighting for. It has a cost and that we have to pay the cost, and the cost might be very expensive as we have paid high cost in Bahrain, and we are willing to pay that for the changes that we are fighting for.
Julian:
Alaa, you wrote…
Alaa:
That’s…
Julian:
Sorry, jump in… go ahead, Alaa.
Alaa:
I want to say about family, yeah. It’s just that there’s an aspect to – and it’s a different story for every person but, um, I’ve seen this in the revolution in Egypt and I’m sure this is happening… because it’s such a massive event, that’s not just activism, this is the revolution, and so families then eventually, you know, get mobilised some way – they join you or they fight with you or something like that – and… and it’s, it’s part of each person’s story and, you know… and I keep hearing stories from everyone, like I remember there was this lady in Tahrir – in the first sit-in in the first 18 days that toppled Mubarak – who was, um… She was a very young bride, I mean, just been married and… but she is joining the protests, the sit-in, and she’s spending the night in Tahrir; her husband isn’t because he’s not convinced so we used to joke with her, like you know, that if Mubarak doesn’t fall then your family life is in crisis, like, your marriage is in crisis, and if he falls then you’re going to have the upper hand of the house and so on, but you know, part of that is not a joke. It’s actually how the dynamics work out, and then I think he started joining her at the end. And it’s always been like this to me, I can’t separate where the family, you know, ends and where the activism starts, so yeah, I used to go to protests because I married and moved out of the house and it was a good activity to do with my family… it was… you know, when you grow up and…
Julian:
Alaa, you said… you said that the different society as it currently was under Mubarak was not worth having a child in, but, um, you changed your mind.
Alaa:
I actually never said that. That’s people interpreting why we believe… why me and Manal have been married so long but did not have a child. I actually never said that…
Julian:
I see. Well, what happened?
Alaa:
No, we were, I don’t know… I mean, we never felt as excited about having children -and also agreed on it, you know – until the moment of the revolution so… but we were already kind of deciding that we were going to have a child in that year, 2012 or 2011 something like that, and we just didn’t, you know, make the final decision and then when the revolution started and we joined it and discovered how beautiful it is, we just… like, that’s it. We are going to have a child.
Nabeel:
The revolution is not completed yet in Egypt. The revolution is not yet complete in Egypt so you need to do the other half, and once you have finished the other half, you need to have more children.
Alaa:
Yes, yes, yes, that’s the plan, that’s the plan.
Julian:
Where we at now with…? What’s the current status… what’s the state of play in Bahrain right now?
Nabeel:
I would say there are three different stages. In Tunisia complete revolution, complete overthrow of the regime, completely new system…
Alaa:
No, it’s not complete in Tunisia at all.
Nabeel:
Well, then you have in Egypt, which is halfway revolution, not yet completed, army and the system and the regime still exist. Then you have Bahrain revolution still exists and working and did not yet achieve anything but the revolution is still in process. It is still continuing after a year. Many people were killed in terms of percentage, much more than people lost in Tunisia and Egypt. The number of people detained is much more in terms of percentage than Tunisia and people were fired from work, people were systematically tortured, people were killed and the present mosque were demolished, houses been looted…
Julian:
This…this…the demolishment of this symbol of the six pillars, um…
Nabeel:
That shows this.. the mentality, it’s a tribal mentality…
Julian:
… It’s a sort of self-inflicted 9/11, isn’t it? I mean, they knocked down the most significant part, architectural part, of Bahrain.
Nabeel:
In fact, they made out of it a symbol where it was not, but now you see it in every cloth people wear, and every house you go you see a frame with the Pearl Roundabout. People start wearing jewelleries made of the Pearl Roundabout, people having this five hundred coin for selling it in the black market – because of the crazy reaction of the government by demolishing. You can’t demolish memories, you can’t demolish history – it exists, it is fact, it’s reality. What are you going to do? You going to make it… you’re going to strengthen it in people’s minds, and this is what they’ve done. That remains, that’s why people fighting to go back to the same place now. I… including myself and my family, because they made that place a symbol. If they had not demolished that, if they had not attacked the people early morning, killed people early morning, we wouldn’t have that place as a symbol ,but now they made it as a symbol. That shows the tribal mentality of regimes, of ruling regime, ruling this part of the world. Unfortunately, we are in a region ruled by families, dictators, since 10th… of couple of hundred of years but their strength comes from the wealth, from the Americans’ support, from the armies they have, and from no legitimacy from people. No other… no legitimacy from people – but those are realities that they are ruling us and we can’t change them because nobody wants to talk about them.
Julian:
Alaa… Alaa, where’s Egypt now? I just noticed this mornin… reading just – actually, just two hours ago – that the judges… three judges who are overseeing this trial of the NGOs resigned. So what’s happening?
Alaa:
Yeah well, that’s a very long story.
Julian:
Give me… give me the big picture.
Alaa:
Yeah, yeah, let’s talk about the revolution, then we can get back to the NGO case later.
Nabeel:
But the Tunisia revolution, you said not completed… why’s that?
Julian:
Why is…?
Nabeel:
Why Tunisian revolution is not done?
Alaa:
The Tunisian revolution. Well, there is no… I don’t think there’s any revolution that has been complete. A complete revolution means that, you know, that a new world of justice is created and that hasn’t happened. I’ve lived in South Africa for three years, the revolution there is not complete and that doesn’t mean defeated because it won completely but it’s still there, the need, you know, the need for a completely different life and Tunisia, I think what is happening is that the regime is much smarter than in Egypt or in Bahrain or in Libya or in Syria. It, you know, it decided that it is going to let go of power, so that power is elected so that the people would go back and leave the streets, but then the social order that keeps, you know, unemployment high and workers rights are thrown out of the… window, and that makes, you know, strategic foreign policy or whatever decisions not be based on actual – what’s the word? – sovereignty, you know, on any kind of actual independent section of Tunisian interests but rather international…
Julian: [talks over AE]
Why do you think… why do you think Tunisia has decided to cease to recognise Syria?
Alaa:
Do you mean the Syrian government?
Julian:
Yes.
Alaa:
No, because they have an elected government, of course. No. I mean, I’m not saying an elected government makes no difference, it does make a difference, but it’s a reform, it’s a small improvement – well, it’s a major improvement, but it doesn’t rise up to the actual aspirations of the people. The ruling class or the ruling elite in Tunisia was smarter from the very beginning, you know, Ben Ali fled instead of waiting until he’s, you know, toppled like Mubarak did and so on. So they’ve been consistently, er, smarter but the revolution is not over yet. And in Tunisia there has been like a strike action recently that was attacked by the elected government. Protests, both by the Salafists – Salafists’ protests was around religious issues – and protests by the labour union were…
Julian:
Alaa…
Alaa:
…attacked and beat by tear gas and so on, so it’s still ongoing.
Julian:
What’s the present state of play in Egypt now? You have these big, big powerful factions, you have the companies, you have the military, which also has its own economy. You have the people involved in this initial revolutionary movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Coptics, how’s all this playing out?
Alaa:
Well basically, you know, the 18 days thing was quite surprising that that, you know, that Mubarak would fall that quickly, and the price was high but we thought it would be much higher and so on. So, what’s happening in Egypt is that… what we expected should happen, like I mean, we would all have expected that a revolution would be something that would stretch over a year maybe, so that year that didn’t happen with Mubarak is happening with the military. And people up to an initial moment of thinking, you know, that the military might just decide to redeem its unity and status by not engaging and not protecting the regime is… actually, the military is the core of the regime… so the revolution now is a revolution against military rule, and it is getting deeper in… in the sense that the goals now are not just to remove the military council – the generals – from, you know, ruling, but also remove any generals from any position that should be held by civilians, subjecting the military to an elected authority, stripping away the economic power of the military so that it’s just an arm… you know, a tool in the hands of the executive, and not a state within the state and so on. And that’s massive. This is citing… this is confronting all interests at once. Like, it’s obvious that American interests really – and Saudi interests – want the, you know, strategic Egypt remains in the hands of the military. Like decisions about defence, about Suez Canal, about relationship with Israel, about foreign policy, about internal security, about whether Egypt is involved in the War against Terror or not – all of these things should be in the hands of intelligence, the military and so on, and not in the hands of an elected authority. So, this is what the fight is about, and it’s tough… people are getting killed…
Julian:
But what… what has happened to the revolutionary forces now? So, you had the… the soccer clubs, the Ultras, the unions, how would you describe where these groups are now, and what are they doing? Have they disbanded, are they still pushing for change in particular directions? Have they been captured? Has the Muslim Brotherhood been captured?
Alaa:
No. Well, the Muslim Brotherhood has almost stepped out of the revolution. They’ve been elected into parliament and they’re now interested in negotiating with the military and with the Americans, and in, you know, very, very gradual reforms, and in taking over, you know – through elections – so it’s their right to take over but, you know, but they’re not interested action, confrontation and continuing the revolution and so on. They’re… most of the organised… like formal parties and so on maybe have a more critical position than the Muslim Brotherhood, but they’re also not exactly being, you know, acting in a revolutionary fashion. It’s the smaller, less political but organised groups, like the football Ultras, like football fans – independent football fan associations were the kings of the street battles with the police – are still very strong and still very much into it and they’re being hunted down by the police now and tortured.
Alaa:
Um, the labour unions, which is a… independent labour unions are a new phenomena, they’re… you know, we only had three before the revolution, now we have a hundred and something, so it’s still growing. Just today there was a strike that shut down all courts in the country by the clerks in the courts and so on, so they…that’s still ongoing but it’s recent, it’s small and it’s growing. We have a student movement now that’s growing. The student movement in Egypt’s history have always played a massive role. Now students… you know, and young people, are the revolution but when we’re talking about here is an organised student movement that is within the universities and the high schools, so it’s not just students joining protests but it’s students actually organising and forming their own structures for decision-making and so on.
Nabeel:
I will summarise what he says in regard… I will summarise…
Alaa:
And there are neighbourhood committees and so on. But, um…
Julian:
Right. Alaa, do you remember during the…
Alaa:
Sorry, I just wanted to say…
Julian:
Sorry, go on…
Alaa:
I interrupt you because I really wanted to make a point, that… so all of these factions and then we have, you know, the different organised groups – they’re still a very small part of the revolution.Now the biggest… the body of the revolution is still completely non-affiliated with any formal structure. It is masses that join in and, you know, and protest or go on strike, wildcat strikes, without clear leadership, and are willing to engage in street battles also. So you’ve got strikes, sit-ins, protests, street battles – this is the revolution. Now, this is still very strong. This is, you know, this is still what is shaking the regime and it grows, it is not getting smaller, it’s actually getting bigger but it’s been a year and people are wondering whether you can continue this way or whether, you know, you need to move to more formal structures. And I think, you know, I think the formal structures haven’t offered an answer. – that’s like the interesting sideshow stuff that I’ve been talking about like the independent trade unions and the student movement and so on, that’s growing and it’s going to play an important role but certainly political parties are not going to be the solution. And so we’re waiting for this massive social movement to come up with a way, you know, to make decisions in… more rapidly, because right now it is so organic that decisions are made very slowly. That mob, that crowd, that tribe, that masses, them masses, you know, and all these manifestations of the people might disappear.

[AE crew needs to take a break to change the cards]
Julian:
Yes, ok, you can go off…we’ll just wait till you change your cards.
Alaa:
We had… yeah, I’m done with that point. I just wanted to say that the disorganised revolution is the revolution and I don’t know whether… well, I believe in it but I don’t know where it’s going so…
Nabeel:
I mean, the problem…
Julian:
What’s… what’s… go on…
Nabeel:
I would say the problem weakening the complete revolution in Egypt, as it is in Yemen, you have the classic, political parties which want to go ahead with the existing process and compromise with the regime, that we have it in Egypt now and we have it in Yemen. And then you have the revolution of the young, of the youth movement industry who wants to have complete revolution but the problem… although they are very powerful, they are in the streets but they are not as organised as the political parties which exist for many years, and that’s why they are taking the benefits now in Egypt for example, or in Yemen. The political groups, the parties are taking the benefits and going ahead with the system and having kind of compromises. Where in Bahrain we could minimise the… the gap between the existing classical group, political group, with the youth movement. We… we’re just trying to make it very close and almost they are close – they’re talking in one language, they’re talking one demand, maybe in one ceiling [?], but not as there as in Egypt where you have different voices, people in the street and people want to…
Julian:
But, I mean, are they both… are they really both kept out from power – the political groups in Bahrain…
Nabeel:
Both of them – that’s one reason of course, both of them were kept out of power, both of them were…
JA;
And… and the revolutionary groups in Bahrain and the people who supported these protest movements in Bahrain, have they been wound up? Are they too scared to act? Um, are they fractured? Are they apathetic? Who’s left who’s still pushing forward?
Nabeel:
Well, still a lot of people. You have… I mean, I would didn’t be surprised, or you should not be surprised, to see half of the Bahraini population coming out in one protest. It’s still happening. It’s not happening in any of the revolutions. None of the revolutions we had in the history in the past 50 years you would see 50 per cent of the population out in the street in one protest, but you will see in Bahrain. Unfortunately, because of the double standard of many countries, because of the double standard of many state channels like Al-Jazeera, like Al-Arabia, like other European channels that they don’t highlight this but this is the reality, this is the fact, that more than half of the population were deep in the street in the protest. Although we… they have killed many people, detained many people, till today we have many people, and very united also.
Julian:
Why doesn’t Al-Jazeera report the Bahraini… let me rephrase this… how is Al-Jazeera reporting the protest movement in Bahrain?
Nabeel:
Al-Jazeera were positive in Egypt, they were positive in Tunisia. In fact, Al-Jazeera were a sign for any revolution in the Arab world if it is a credible revolution or not. If Al-Jazeera will cover those revolution it is credible, but when it comes to Bahrain Al-Jazeera were quiet. I’m talking about Arabic Al-Jazeera not the English – English completely different.
Julian:
Yeah. The English was alright, wasn’t it?
Nabeel:
It’s still certain limit… they were ok. The Arabic one, they were complete silence. In fact, in many areas they’d taken the side of the government.
Julian:
Why?
Nabeel:
Why? Because they are all from similar ruling family and similar region. A democracy in Bahrain means it’s going to have an impact on Qatar, it’s going to have an impact on Saudi Arabia, which has the Al-Arabia TV channel.
Julian:
So why did Saudi send troops into Bahrain?
Nabeel:
That’s, er… I mean, this is something the whole world has to speak out and have to condemn what happened but we’ve seen the invasion of Saudis to my country with complete silence. Now the same governments sending troops to Libya to fight the regime and now they are against the Syrian Assad – which they have to be maybe – but when it comes to Bahrain they were complete silence. With Saudi and the troops…
Julian:
Were they scared of the activist Shi’a in Bahrain spreading into Saudi?
Nabeel:
No, because the Saudis are very influential in the United States, in Europe. They have… for the interests of United States, for the interests of many European countries, for the arms sales, for the flow of the oil, for the mutual interests which many countries seen have… has more priority than the human rights of the Bahrainis. For example, the same United States which asked Russian not to sell arms for Syria, they are selling arms to Bahrain. The same Turkish government which is supporting the Russian revolution, which they have to support, and they are selling armed vehicles to Bahrain, and at the same time they’re trying to cover, trying to support the Bahrain government till today. Yesterday, a statement by the representative… American representative in the human rights council saying that ‘We will not talk about Bahrain this session because Bahrain is improving itself and it is doing better’ – where people d… As I’m talking to you, a few hours ago one man died because of tear gas. We have… daily basis people are dying.
Julian:
Is… is Iran fuelling the revolutionary forces in…?
Nabeel:
This is what our government’s saying. This is what the Americans maybe try to buy that, but that’s got nothing… none of the revolution is [inaudible]…
Julian:
Did you…? I read a cable at the time of these Bahraini protests about eight months ago and this US cable, which we have published, says that the Bahraini government officers came into the US embassy and they said: ‘Look, Iran is behind these calls for human rights in Bahrain. It is funnelling money and weapons into the Bahrainian resistance’, and then the US ambassador writing back to Washington said that he saw no evidence that that was true. That they keep claiming this… they keep claiming this but over years they had never seen any evidence.
Nabeel:
Yeah, yeah. Similar to that at least one cable that was about me, where one of the government agents goes to the American embassy, says that Nabeel Rajab is receiving funds from the Iranian government and Americans tell the State Department that it’s not true, they’ve got nothing to support that. But…
Julian:
Do you think this fear-mongering about Iran is the… is it the primary reason why the West is not supporting..?
Nabeel:
I’m sure they want Bahrain stable as the Fifth Fleet based in Bahrain. They want Bahrain to be very quiet and stable, and the revolution is not making it stable…
Julian:
So, it’s like, the Fifth Fleet is based in port in Bahrain and it is right next to Iran?
Nabeel:
Yes, and losing… you have to take… Let’s put things in a trap. Losing Mubarak… losing Ben Ali in Tunisia and losing Mubarak in Egypt angered the Saudis very much. You know that there was a telephone call where they had a fight – the Saudi king with Obama? And when it comes to Bahrain this is the last thing the Saudis want to see – a revolution on Bahrain, few miles from their border, which means going to have impact, negative, in Saudi Arabia – that’s why Saudi sent the troops to Bahrain to take part in the crackdown, in killing people, detaining people, and they have taken part in that bloody crackdown with the complete silence of… from the international community. Yes, Saudi didn’t want democracy; yes, Qatar, which want to promote democracy in Syria and other parts of the world but they don’t want democracy in Qatar – they want to stir all the region as they are having their own farm or company. This region is being ruled as of this moment like it’s companies belong to those families. Democracy means you have to stop this and you have to ask your people, you have to share power, you have to share wealth and those governments will not accept that to happen. That’s why the Americans were afraid of the Saudi position, Saudis are influential because of… now they bought the American silence with this biggest arms deal we had few months ago, couple of months ago…
Julian:
This was with Bahrain, or with Saudi?
Nabeel:
With the Saudis…
Julian:
Yeah – Eighty-something billion dollars.
Nabeel:
It’s being silent on Bahrain is not to please the Bahraini as much as to please the Saudis.
Alaa:
But it’s also about US interests, it’s all about like international interests, like, let’s be clear here. A democratic Arab world would not allow military bases, foreign military bases within, would not allow military ships to pass through the Suez Canal, would not be selling… would be deciding on the… the selling of oil or attributing – what do you call it? – allowing, you know, oil companies to drill and so on, would… would probably… like, the policy around oil would change radically on who and when and how much to sell and so on, even dealing some for the future or whatever. Would not be,… would be at peace with Israel in the sense that people are not interested in war, but would not be in friendship with Israel, and so on. And so a democratic Arab world would be completely different in terms of any strategic policies and so the interests of the United States, the interests even of the European Union and the interests of Israel is… are completely invested in no more democracy there, and the regimes understand that, and they regimes have built their own fortunes and their own power around being agents of these powers, to a point where Saudi is now big enough that it’s one of the agents more. It’s not as powerful obviously but it has its own interests to protect and it…
Julian:
Alaa…
Alaa:
… it would negotiate and push and even argue from a similar position to the US.
Julian:
Alaa, you may remember, during the heat of the Egyptian revolution, Suleiman, the head of domestic intelligence in Egypt, was proposed by Joseph Biden, by the State Department, by Hillary Clinton to be a sort of replacement figure for Mubarak, a compromise figure, and we released many cables about him and his position in relation to Israel and his relation to United States and being a sort of… a torturer-in-chief for…
Alaa:
I mean, this is for tortures, yeah…
Julian:
Yeah, but very quickly after it was apparent that Suleiman was not going to succeed you saw Hillary Clinton turn around and start to praise the Egyptian revolution and say that in fact the Egyptian and Tunis revolutions were because of two great American companies, Twitter and Facebook [all laugh]. You must of heard this time and time again, but I was reading this handbook by the Ultras, the soccer clubs – perhaps you just could very briefly describe their role? – but in this handbook, on the front page it says ‘Do not use Twitter and Facebook’ because you’ll all be rounded up, and on the back page it says ‘Do not use Twitter and Facebook’. Can you just describe a little bit what Egyptians think about this claim, and is there in fact some truth to it?
Alaa:
Yeah, ok. So, yeah, so it needs to be taken one by one. So, first of all you have to realise that there’s a… there’s a battle for narratives in… in the revolutions. The revolutions are about ideas as much as they are about, you know, bodies in the streets and bullets and so on. And so there’s a battle for narrative around the revolution and when that shift happened, when the US official position started, you know, praising the revolution, that shift also happened in Egyptian official media, like State-controlled media, and in representatives of the government and that’s when the military rulers started talking about it and so on. And the most crucial aspect of this battle of narrative is to try and narrow down the revolution to being about the Facebook youth. That doesn’t meant that the Facebook youth didn’t play an important role in the revolution – they did – but the thing is if you draw a circle around, you know, a side of revolution and say this is the true revolution, everybody else is not for real, and then you play on everything, you play on class, you play on how much people are willing to use violence to defend themselves – to isolate, you know, the revolutionary forces in charge. So they’re well- off, middle-class, highly educated, internet-connected youth played an important role in the revolution and they were, for very tactical reasons, they were the symbols of the revolutions because you needed the whole world to love the Egyptian revolution. So you also had this great Woodstock-like party in Tahrir without the drugs and the sex but, you know, you had this wonderful, you know, amazing and very inspiring – it’s also very real, there’s no aspect of, you know, of fantasy about it… a party in Tahrir Square… but if you tell the story… you know, that’s right about Tahrir. You tell the story about the Egyptian revolution as these wonderful kids – good-looking, well-connected kids being in Tahrir – then you are ignoring the workers, you are ignoring the street battles, you are ignoring how much we had to use violence in defence of ourselves. Of course, it wasn’t… you know, calling it violence would be incorrect because when you throw rocks at armed personnel carriers that are shooting from machine guns at you, I don’t think that should be called violence – but what I’m saying is, you know, we were not sticking to the script that people outside of the revolution think that was going on. So, Hillary was not just pushing to comp… American companies, she was pushing a narrative that is designed to stop the revolution, to make sure that it doesn’t go deeper than Mubarak. Um, so that’s why it’s such a contentious issue. Like, Twitter and Facebook are very useful but if you… but if I talk about how useful they are and this gets turned into a tool that is used against the revolution then I’d rather say that they were not useful at all. But that’s… the reality is they were very useful…
Julian:
Nabeel, I want to hear from you about the present status of Facebook and Twitter in Bahrain because in researching for this meeting I saw that there had been a Facebook page created by supporters of the regime listing all the photographs of – or many of the photographs of – Bahrainian activists to help hunt them down. What’s… what’s going on?
Nabeel:
Well, first of all we have to know that Bahrainis may be the most active nation, I think, now in the Arab world in Twitter. We have learnt from Tunisian, we have learnt from the Egyptian, we have become smart on using Twitter for our revolution and Facebook, and also beside us the government are the smartest in the Arab world in using it Twitter and Facebook and social media, and what you have seen is part of that. Hired a tenth of PR companies in the United States, in Britain, in Europe which have hundreds of people brought from different Asian countries, African countries, to work day and night on the social media, Twitter and Facebook, to create fake public opinion, to mislead public opinion, to show a different story on what’s happening on Bahrain, to change the reality and the fact of what’s happening on Bahrain. But after all of this, after millions being paid – hundreds of people were invested in this by government – reality will come out. Fact will come out. Activists, unpaid activists, volunteers, few volunteers will bring out the reality and fact to the international… That’s why… you know, me today – I don’t have a PR company, I don’t have people working for me, but finally when you were looking for the truth, you found it. They have a lot of companies doing that but they fail… but they’re smart, they’re using…
Julian:
You have some five fake accounts…
Nabeel:
I have five… six fake… fake account made – Twitter and Facebook…
Julian:
That are pretending to be you and…
Nabeel:
That are pretending to be me saying bad words in English and Arabic and… Some people believed it but now from the numbers following me you can know: this is not the real Nabeel; this is real Nabeel. But that’s… that’s… you have to fight… I mean, this is the new order – government social media, Twitter, Facebook. There were all sorts of revolution in the 90s, I mean in the 70s – they didn’t have this, unfortunately…
Julian:
I’ll ask both of you…Do you think it’s, you know, when technology becomes democratised for a period or there is some new technology that enters into the frame – like the internet was a relatively new technology or it’s things like Facebook and Twitter and WikiLeaks are all new – that there’s… some people can move quickly and adapt quickly – and those are young people who are not already bound up into a patron infrastructure, not spending all their time on maintaining their position, so they are the first people to come in and quickly adopt this technology – but once an existing regime sees that it is important and it is static and it is not changing, they start pouring their efforts into it; they learn more slowly but they have a lot more resources. Do you think that the Bahrainian regime will conquer Facebook and Twitter and people will have to go to a new…?
Nabeel:
Well, Tunisians have shut down Twitter and Facebook. Egyptian government, they have tried to slow down the internet or shut down the whole internet…
Alaa:
But they cannot completely…
Nabeel:
… completely cut it off. In Bahrain, they targeted all the Twitter activists and detained them, and some of them tortured to death. So, everywhere government have different tactics. That’s why you see a lot of Bahrainis move to use fake and secret names, but at the same time the positive thing is a big part of Bahrainis – percentage, big percentage of Bahrainis – start learning how to use the internet, how to use social media, because of the revolution. A positive and a negative. But the positive thing: at least 20 per cent of members of my family have learnt how to do the internet and do social media… I’m telling you – all, including my mum….
Julian:
So, even my… Yeah, my mother, my mother now, because of my situation she gets on Twitter.
Nabeel:
Yeah, yeah. My mum is over 80 years of age and she said ‘You have to keep Twitter in my telephone’. She doesn’t know it, but she asked the person with her: ‘Just check what’s happening. Anybody writing things…?’. It’s… it is something we hadn’t, we didn’t have it. Everybody’s using internet, everybody… it’s because of the revolution now.
Julian:
Alaa, can you speak about this battle to keep, er, try and restore bits of the internet, restore bits of the telephone system, during the Tahrir Square protests? There was one ISP that had 6 per cent of the population or so covered.
Alaa:
Yeah, I’m not sure they had 6 per cent, they had 6 per cent of the connectivity but I think actually the number of individual clients was so small…
Julian:
But can you just speak about this progression… you had… everything was connected and then bits… as time went by bits and pieces were chopped off…
Alaa:
[talking over] Yeah, so there…there was a constant… there was a constant battle to try and keep the information flowing. We would not focus on, you know, stirring it outside the country, but also the revolution was happening in multiple cities – the uprising of the revolution was still ongoing – the uprising was happening in multiple cities and you needed to keep information, you know, flowing from one city to another. Um, so you had everything – you had from people reverting to dialogue because there were… there were… the landlines were still working, so they were dialling up over international lines, even international calls; you had one ISP that was kept running – we think because they had some political banking, stuff like that, running on it and oh, I don’t know, maybe they thought they needed to monitor stuff. I mean, we don’t know why they kept one ISP running, but they kept the one ISP with the least number of subscribers running. Um, and then you also had satellite, you know – people brought in satellite internet connectivity, mostly from outside the country. In fact, Bahraini friends who came and then were trapped in Egypt as the revolution started in Bahrain because this is what… they joined the Egyptian revolution, bringing with them satellite equipment.
Alaa:
People were using satellite phones, but all of that was not really very important. What was important is… um, even internal information flow was not very important because once you had people in the street… You know, if you hear that something is happening in Suez and you are in Alexandria there’s not much that you can do about it until… until you’ve secured your own location. But it all happened very quickly, so on the 28th the police was defeated and then three days later the internet was back because there was no point in keeping communication, you know, shut off by then – they were already defeated in the battle in the streets. So… so I know it sounds interesting, you know, all the stories about… and, in fact, I was involved in that because I was outside the country at that time so I was constantly making phone calls to landlines or using fax machines to get information out of the country and then publish it online, and I had the usernames and passwords of most human rights websites, and you know, prior – because we had leaks that the… that the shutdown was coming and so on… But it’s… it’s not really an interesting side of the rev…you know, it didn’t really matter. Information is critical for starting things and it’s critical for setting up an image of – and an understanding of – what is going on, but the real-time flow of information is not as important as we think. Or not always. I mean, it doesn’t have to be, we can live without it… alright, it certainly reduces the price though. I’m mean, I’m sure there are many people who died who could have, you know, you could have prevented their deaths if you could make phone calls and so on, so I’m not saying it’s insignificant but I’m saying it’s insignificant in the big picture.
Julian:
Most revolutions have… seem to have started, at least in the history books, they have started in big squares – these big places where people meet together – and even the aborted revolution in Bahrain similarly started that way. In fact, the regime tried heavily to try and remove that square as being a meeting place. The Russian revolution started… it started in a square. Tahrir Square is famous from the Egyptian revolution. Why are… why is that? Why are these squares important? There must be something about the flow of information between people in these squares, that they can perhaps all see each other, that they can see that they have the numbers, they can see that they have the will.
Nabeel:
I mean, before you don’t have internet, you don’t have social media. It has to be the place where most people pass by or it’s the centre of the country, or the centre of the capital. But nowadays, square… and yes, we use square, we use like Pearl Roundabout or Tahrir Square, but still revolution could have gone with the social media without… For example, we don’t have square anymore in Bahrain but still it’s up in the news, you can hear about the Bahraini revolution daily what’s happening because of the internet, exchanging information. This… I mean, although Bahrain government tried to block some website, for example the website for the organisation that I’m working for, Bahrain Centre for Human Rights – it’s been blocked since the past maybe six/seven years but yes, people still use it for getting information. So, the square is not any more important as it used to be in the 70s, in the 90s. Yes, to show the outside world that we’re strong, that we are there, that all of us are there for one time, for a day or two, but not any more like before it’s so important so we couldn’t continue without even the square. It used to be important in those days because to show the international community that we are there and we are a lot of people.
Julian:
Alaa, can we have this space without space? You have written about the importance of controlling a narrative in a particular space, and my feeling is this is all about every… people being able to see that they have the numbers, that there’s a large group of people, that courage is contagious, and see someone resisting police therefore I can resist police, my chance of getting caught is less if I know there is a lot of other people involved, etcetera. Is there a way of doing that without having the physical construct? Or is the courage needed in a revolutionary moment inherently physical?
Alaa:
Well, it’s inherently physical – but it doesn’t have to be in a square. I mean, like… but the square is amazing – so I’ll get back to the square – but let’s remember Tunisia; Tunisia did not have a square. They had the Gasfa sit-in but actually the revolution in Tunisia went through a very different script. It started in the provinces, not in the capital, and it built up… it was kind of like the way Syria is going but in Syria it doesn’t seem to get into the capital at all. And in Tunis started… how we got into the capital was by people from the provinces forcing themselves in, they just marched from Sidi Bouzid all the way up to Tunis and, you know, confronted the upper middle class in Tunis to, like, join us or, you know, join the other side, more or less. But there was never this space element to it, even the Gasfa sit-in… Gasfa sit-in was not as… as crucial, I think, and it certainly did not take on symbolic meaning as Tahrir did. But the funny thing about squares is that… it is my understanding in history is that these large boulevards and large squares were designed to control the population. It was, I mean, this… this idea of how you design cities came about after the French revolution or maybe the Paris commune or something like that, and it was, like, you needed a way to deploy armies very quickly and to deploy your police very quickly and control, you know, and… and the State would have full access to all citizens. Basically, this is why you have these… these structures, and then they were used in… by the fascists and Nazis and so on, to build up their own non-grassroots but, you know, their own masses and their own rallies and so on. And so… and this is what revolution is.
Alaa:
A revolution is not about… you know, you were talking about how governments can use the internet – it doesn’t matter. Governments… you know, power has all the tools that it has. The change that happens when you change the layout of a city or when you have a [inaudible] political shift is where the new tools are in the hands of the people. It doesn’t matter that government has access to the same tools because governments always have access to all the tools and so funnily enough, you know, my understanding is that squares were designed to control the population but they have allowed populations force themselves in. And they have allowed them to imagine themselves as a body and a mass and a people and that’s… that’s the critical of aspect of it. So, we hear about battles of narrative but the square is the battle of spectacle. It’s creating this spectacular moment that everybody joins in that becomes the revolution in our minds, you know, and that embodies the… you don’t actually start with a dream. You don’t go down from your house with a dream of a perfect Egypt and then you join the revolution. No, you go out first, and sometimes it’s out of curiosity and sometimes it’s out because they have already shot tear gas and it’s filling your flat and you have to go out to take a breath anyway and so on, and then you find yourself in the square and then you find each other – that’s the flow of information that we’ve been talking about, and it becomes it. And it’s also not – social networks – but not Facebook. I mean, when they shut down the internet, when we knew the internet shutdown was going to happen, the call that was spreading was ‘Go back to your original social network’ – the mosque, the church and the square, and the university. These are the social networks, you know. Go back to them, we can be a mass there and then move on.
Julian:
Do you think shutting down the internet, shutting down mobile phones in Egypt forced people out onto the street because they had a lack of information, they had to get together with other people physically?
Alaa:
Well, exactly, yeah. Absolutely. But it also, you know, whenever they take an extreme reaction, an overreaction, it shows you what your strength is. Um, for example, we just had a call for a general strike on the 11th February – that’s the anniversary of Mubarak falling – and it failed miserably. But they reacted to it so strongly – I mean, the military were so scared about it. I mean, they started a propaganda campaign on TV and so on, and it’s that that inspired the student movement. The students were organising for the… um, strike within the university, and then the general strike [inaudible] did not happen but it’s… but what made them decide to continue working instead of being apathetic or, you know, feeling defeated and so on was the overreaction. So, cutting off forced people out because if you wanted to know what’s going on you had to go out and you wanted to know what’s going on because no… you know, even if you did not decide to join, you had someone out there who was part of it and you wanted to make sure they were safe. Um, but also it’s the over… it’s the extreme reaction, it shows their weakness…
Julian:
Thank you.
Alaa:
… and I think that’s what happens… that’s what happened with the Al-lu’lu’, they thought it was a demonstration… in Bahrain, they thought it was a demonstration of hope, but it was a demonstration of weakness in, you know, in destroying the symbol of the square.
Julian:
What do you think?
Nabeel:
Repeat your question. I wasn’t… I wasn’t…
Julian:
I’ll move on actually to something else that I find very interesting. Because you know this organisation since 2010, although we have been going a lot longer, has had a major confrontation with the United States, in particular the US State Department and the US Pentagon, and so I have… I have come to know these two organisations rather well from… from that confrontation but also from reading their internal correspondence. And there’s an allegation by the Bahraini regime, which is pro-American, that your human rights foundation received $43,000 US dollars from the National Endowment for Democracy, the NED, back in 2008. It’s quite interesting that they’re throwing this accusation at you, and in Egypt there are many NGOs and other civil rights groups which were receiving money, some hundreds of millions of dollars of money, from the United States government prior to the Egyptian revolution. What… what’s your thoughts about this? Did the Egyptian revolution… would the Egyptian revolution have happened were it not for this American money? How corrupted are these NGOs by American money? The new regime that’s forming in Egypt, is it corrupted by American money? Is there… is there a sort of incoherency within the US State Department that it does… on the one hand, it gives Mubarak and his children the means – tear gas canisters, riot control equipment, spying equipment – to crush revolutionary movements; on the other hand, it’s… it’s giving support and encouragement to the softer form of some of these movements?
Nabeel:
Well, first of all, I mean, regarding the piece of information that you are talked about in regard to our organisation, it was a mistake of the organisation rather than our government. The organisation, they have put the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights’ name in their website as we received and we did not receive, and we called them and they removed that.
Julian:
I checked this morning and you were not there now.
Nabeel:
We were not there, but it used to be there one time. We have to differentiate first of all, we have to… you can’t say it’s ‘American money’, you can’t say ‘in European money’, you have to differentiate between civil society and government. Yes, we are against receiving money from any government, whether it is Russia, whether it’s America, or the United… Europe, but yes, you have the right to receive funding to run your organisation from funding organisation all around the world.
Julian:
But, I mean, Congress just gives a huge whack of money to the NED and then they give it to… I mean, there’s many ways, when it’s still basically from the American government, it’s just laundered through these front organisations.
Nabeel:
Aware from specifically a certain organisation, but all I’m saying how it has been known in our region – American or European or… – we have to differentiate. Most of the organisations in Egypt and around the world are receiving money from organisations and not from government. Yes, government money is very dangerous, a way of them influencing you or not, but taking money from government that want to make you have a good name and reputation and image, and your ability to influence your region and your people is going to be very low because of that, so it’s always better to be aware of the funding of governments…
Julian:
I can… I can see that… the sort of reputational risks, but I am more interested in two things: number one, what actually was…
Alaa:
How compromising it is.
Julian:
What actually was the practical effect of this money being dumped into the Middle East – positive and negative – and also the sort of… is there incoherency within the State Department, and where does that come from? Is it as a result of the US State Department trying to, you know, it has a hard arm for American arms sales, for selling fighter bombers around the world, for getting Coke special deals and so on, and it has a soft arm, which is promotion of human rights. Is that just marketing? Or does… is there a section within the State Department that actually believes it, and what effect does it have? Alaa?
Alaa:
[coughs] Yeah. So, um, tough one. Er…
Nabeel:
Yeah, go ahead. Because he was…
Alaa:
So, there are donor-funded… sorry. There are donor-funded organisations that did play an important role, but there is almost no organisation that receives money that is being dumped by the US government, the [inaudible], and so there is a problematic aspect to all forms of donor funding, you know, and foundation funding and so on, so the fact that you haven’t… and the human rights group, you know, even let’s use the vocabulary of… um, sorry, the guys are having technical problems here… and I don’t want to make life difficult for them…
Julian:
Ok. We’ll let Nabeel answer.
Nabeel:
Now I go to the basic, which is the American…
Nabeel:
Yes, American – he talks about the human rights and he talks about democracy, always they have different packages from government to government. As you see now, the reaction to Bahrain revolution is different than the reaction to Syrian revolution. For them, sometimes democracy is only for their… those states that they have a problem with, and not for those dictators they have a good relation with. And that’s… that’s again we go back to the double standard and hypocrisy of the United States government, but I don’t want to say always the United States, the United States. I have to… admit we have learnt a lot…
Julian:
But, I mean, hypocrisy… I want to get to something that is a bit subtler, which is that, you know, hypocrisy may not be so bad. We could have a United States government which is only totalitarian in its aspects, which is only interested in arms deals, which is only interested in propping up its… its puppets. Um, this other aspect that we see within the US State Department, within NED, within Freedom House, from the US Congress, of funding human rights organisations, funding pro-democracy organisations – how much of that aspect is positive, versus how much of it is co-opting those organisations and just introducing a sort of marketing effect to cover up for the hard power that the US is exercising? So, you can prop up Mubarak with weapons and arms sales and with intelligence and so on. On the other hand, then you are also supporting human rights projects of some description within Egypt. Is… you know, what… how does this balance play out?
Alaa:
[to crew] I’m fine…? Ok. Sorry? So, what I was trying to say is that there are two human rights movements. Like, in a place like Egypt – and I think it’s the same in all the Arab countries – there are two human rights, well, there are three human rights movements. There is the one that is actually governmental, it’s pretending to be an un-governmental but it’s… it completely works for the government. There is one that is completely co-opted by American government money directly, and then there is one that is also dependent on donor funding but it’s more selective of the donors and it’s managing to maintain its independence. Now that… that third one, it’s small and it’s the true one and it’s the only one has an impact and that plays a role in the revolution. And it has a very tough time negotiating around the influence of money but so also trying to find… to raise funds locally and so on. So these human rights groups, for instance, they’re the ones who provide lawyers when we are arrested, they’re the ones who provide… they lend us space for meetings, they help… they don’t just provide lawyers for when you are detained, they also provide food when you are detained because conditions in prisons are horrible, especially – not for people like me because my family can support me – but, you know, for detainees who come from a poorer background. They support… they have provided legal aid for the labour movement – and that’s not just, you know, being a labour lawyer and going to court, because the unions are too poor, they cannot afford to pay fees for these things and so on. But these are radical human rights groups. The wages are very low, the risks are very high, the sources of funding that they can work with that don’t put any strings are very small and so on, and the litmus test is always, you know, their position on things like Israel, and… and this is then when you realise whether this is a truly independent and the funding hasn’t affected them, or not. So, I cannot go in detail because some of them are facing charges now; some of the ones I consider fake ones are facing charges and some of the ones that I don’t consider fake are facing charges, and so I…
Julian:
Yeah, why is there… ? Yeah, what is… in Egypt now we have this sort of round-up of a bunch of people who received American money from the NGOs, and it seems… from the outside, it seems rather odd in that the US government has, at least in public, now said it supports the results of the revolution, and the army is mostly… has most of the power. Um, what are they afraid of?
Alaa:
Well, there are two sides to this case. So, one side is that the real target is the [inaudible] human rights groups but they haven’t yet touched them, so they’ve frozen their assets, and they are all under investigation but they haven’t sent them to court, and they might not send them to court – it could be that they are just going to use that as an excuse. So, for the past four months all of our human rights lawyers have not been paid and they’ve already been heavily underpaid and… and… so we have hundreds of people who are… we have thousands of people who are in prison who need support, but the lawyers are not being paid, so we are now funding it locally because… – and we can do that because it is a revolutionary moment – but… but you cannot… but you cannot use the funds to pay wages so we are using them just to pay transportation, you know, food for the prisoners and so on. So, we don’t know if they are actually going to send the human rights ‘true’ – I call them the true human rights NGOs – to court, so that is the main battle.But there is another one, which is a fight between the military rulers and the Americans, the American government that is. We don’t know what it’s about exactly – could be, um… so… and I think these NGOs are being used as a hostage in that fight. And it’s a fight not between adversaries, it’s a fight between, you know, people who… you know, between two regim… two sides who are normally together but there is a disagreement now on how to move forward. It could be because the US government is in direct negotiation with Muslim Brotherhood, it could be because the US government is tired of the current… is realising that this SCAF, the military council, is a failure and will not be able to retain power forever so they need to, you know, they… they continue to support this notion that strategic Egypt is in the hands of the military and intelligence, but it doesn’t have to be these, you know, 70-something generals that Mubarak appointed. They might want to see a change of regime within the military, we’re not sure. Both sides are not telling us. I hope you’ll leak something eventually that will tell us what’s going on because it’s really… it’s really driving us crazy, but I don’t think…
Nabeel:
Get [?] some.
Julian:
[laughs] Ok, I just…
Alaa:
You know, there’s a minor… minor disagreement.
Julian:
I was just want to move on because we’re running out of time, but Alaa you wrote… I want to look forward at the future, for Bahrain and for Egypt. There are… of course, you are both immersed in these local problems and particular groups and particular factions and friends who are in prison and so on. Alaa, you wrote in the end of an essay that you wrote about five months ago: ‘The square is a legend’, speaking about Tahrir Square. ‘The square is a legend that would fall if the families of martyrs stopped to believe in it. The dream is the alternative to the regime, if we let go of it for realistic, rational and committed debates that follow the right order of priorities, it would perish. If the legend falls and the dream perishes, the collective will break up. Destiny wouldn’t respond if the collective breaks up. What we know of God is that he is with the collective. Leave the experts behind and listen to the poets, for we are in a revolution. Let go of the mind and hold onto the dream, for we are in a revolution. Beware of caution and embrace the unknown, for we are in a revolution. Celebrate the martyrs, for amidst ideas, symbols, stories, spectacles and dreams, nothing is real but their blood and nothing is guaranteed but their eternity.’ That part of the revolution in Egypt has now finished – the Square – but is the dream finished? Is there still a dream?
Alaa:
No.
Julian:
What is it? And is that dream… is that dream – it’s a question to both of you – is that dream merely the dream of becoming a secular, advanced Western economy, or is there some particular Egyptian dream? Alaa?
Alaa:
There is no articulation of what that dream is. It’s certainly not a boring Western representative democracy where your nation could go on a war, like the UK went without consent of the populous, where electing the president who promised hope is almost exactly the same as electing the president who didn’t promise hope as happened in the US, you know… Um, the dream is… the dream is what makes your work unnecessary, Julian; the dream is what makes… is a democracy that doesn’t give rise to Occupy Wall Street and Occupy London and the Greek riots, and – um, I can’t remember the name of the movement in Spain – and so on. So it’s… but it’s still very much… it’s still very strong and it still lives there, but it is not… it has not been articulated. We don’t have a theory, we don’t have… – yet. So, the dream, you see it in moments when you can become poetic, like I managed to do in that article; the dream you see in the graffiti, and that’s why it has been very much tied to the martyrs. I mean, we don’t just treat them as people who died, they are immortal. And so, if you walk in Cairo now you see their faces drawn in graffiti that sometimes strips the details from the faces so they’re essence, and sometimes glorifies them, sometimes focuses on how Mina Daniel has this charming smile, and sometimes focuses on how, you know, this one… like, this one was a child of… Like Anaise was 14 years old and he actually wrote a will, kind of like a will or a last message, because he felt that he was going to die. Um, and it is not in their sacrifice but it is in how we see their sacrifice and how we re-express their sacrifice and how we keep their memory living, then we touch what the dream is – but I cannot tell you what it is exactly.
Alaa:
… And then, it is in moments of battles, actually, that I almost can touch it, like there are… When we… when we are battling the police there are always these moments of ceasefire that don’t last for very long – I think they’re usually the police refilling their ammunition and so on – and when the police stop firing we stop automatically, but in these moments, you know, you find the people that form circles. You’ve got fires all over the place because fires, you know, people have been using Molotov cocktails or something like that, so these fires become actually like a bonfire, people sitting around it, yeah. [inaudible] suddenly, you know, street merchants come up out of the blue and, you know, the people are drinking the tea and singing together and so on. There is a post-modern state that we are trying to reach, and we don’t know what it is exactly but this is why we are having a revolution and not just an orderly reform, and this is why it doesn’t actually matter what this US government wants and what Al-Jazeera is doing and so on because it’s about something that is much deeper. I don’t know if we are going to win it this time, and I don’t know if we are going to win it in my lifetime, but it’s enough that I… that I, you know, on almost weekly basis, that I get moments where I can almost touch it.
Julian:
Nabeel?
Nabeel:
I think with… in the end of 2010 with the Bouazizi, wave have started – tsunami – and I think it’s going to change the whole region, maybe in very few years the whole region’s going to change. Those smart governments in the region, which going to reform themselves fast, and those governments who will resist changes, I think the tsunami will move them… remove them from their seats. Those governments, in the United States or European governments who have… who built their relations… who built their interests, long strategic interests, with those dictators – I think they’re going to lose a lot. Those governments who are smart enough to have a relation with the people rather than those dictators, I think those will benefit. Changes… I’m very optimistic that changes are going to happen in our region, positive changes.
Julian:
I have two last questions. So, one is of personal interest to me, having spent some time in solitary confinement. Both of… all of us have been in prison…
Nabeel:
Not me.
Julian:
Not you?
Nabeel:
Just hours, not even a day.
Julian:
Not even a day.
Nabeel:
Beaten up, kidnapped…
Julian:
You’ve been beaten… [laughs]
Nabeel:
Yeah but not yet. Maybe because of you when I go back home now.
Julian:
Maybe, yeah, and maybe not. In these moments, whether you are in prison or you are in a situation of being held and kidnapped and beaten, when you are… you have the maximum isolation, you do not have control of your physical space, you do not have control of your body. Someone else has your body, er, and you are not at liberty in the most fundamental sense of the word. What do… what do you think about, and how do you try and control your feelings, to see you through this moment?
Nabeel:
I think if you have a goal, if you believe in the just of your goal, of your struggle, you will come… you will overcome those difficulties. And you know that it’s changes that you are fighting for, it’s been there for hundreds of years, it’s not an easy thing to change ,so to achieve those changes you have to be willing to pay a price, and might… that price might be your life, and I’m sure those people heading the movement in the Arab world are that type of people who are willing to pay their life to achieve those changes.
Julian:
Alaa?
Alaa:
Sorry? I think I have to have five seconds. Yeah, the camera… there, fine.
Alaa:
Yeah, prison sucks man. I can’t say I take my strength from the cause. I can’t say this how… I mean, it matters a lot, like um, there’s a lot of injustice. Most people I have met in prison, prison detainees, shouldn’t be there at all and they are much more crippled by the injustice than me because I’ve… you know, there is a cause, but I can’t… but to me it’s very personal, and it’s family, and it’s love. And this last – I mean, this is my second time to be, um, to go to prison – and my fight was this time that I was facing a military prosecutor and I refused to recognise the legitimacy of the military justice system, and so I was sent – eventually, we managed to win this major victory and I was sent to a proper magistrate – and then he still kept me in detention, and so there was this moment where I was completely collapsing, completely collapsing, and I really wanted to be out and attend the birth of my first son, and I couldn’t because of that, and so I collapsed and then he was born and then three hours later my family managed to send me photos of him. And it didn’t matter – at that moment it just didn’t matter at all, and since, you know… So it’s always been… it’s always been the experience of being surrounded by love, on a very personal level, but also in the solidarity, you know. I’ve been privileged and lucky enough that when I go to prison there’s a massive, massive solidarity everywhere in the world and it’s usually of a very personal fashion. There’s graffiti of my face on walls, there are people who write poetry about it and so on, and so…
Julian:
But you’re in prison, you don’t know…
Alaa:
It is that thing that kept me going. Sorry?
Julian:
Did you know the support that you had on the outside when you were on the inside?
Alaa:
Yes, um, mostly through family visits. So it isn’t isolation – that I… that I wouldn’t be able to handle – and it isn’t being put with dangerous criminals in a very crowded cell – that I wouldn’t be able to handle – but if I was prevented from visits then I don’t know how I’d be able to handle that and that’s, yeah… Don’t tell them!
Julian:
Alaa, you just had your first child while you were in prison, and Nabeel you’re a father of two.
Nabeel:
I have two, yeah.
Julian:
You are a father of two. Will you tell your children to grow up to be an activist like you, and maybe kidnapped and put in prison and beaten up?
Nabeel:
You don’t have to tell them. It’s just by default it’s going to happen, and er…
Julian:
They’ll learn by example?
Nabeel:
Yeah, I mean, my son and my daughter now head of each protest. I just moved them from school because they were harassed. This same school from the children of member of the ruling family and they are paying high price, maybe higher than me because I am doing my fighting struggle and I’m ready for the reaction, but they started growing up, seeing reaction, for reason they don’t know why. Being… their house being raided at midnight, their father is being removed from bed and beaten in front of their eyes. Their house has been tear-gassed maybe more than 20 times in the past one year. They/ve seen things normal children they did not see in their life, but they have learnt a lot, they are much older than their age. When they…
Julian:
How old are they?
Nabeel:
My daughter, she is nine years old, and my son just become 14 years of age. I mean, he used to take part with me in each and every protest since he was five years old, and so my daughter – she never liked human rights and politics and nothing like that – but since I was kidnapped and beaten in front of her, she become a radical now and an activist, and my wife also, she’s a very quiet woman but she is an activist. I think the whole family become activists. We are almost more than a thousand members, talking the…
Julian:
The whole clan?
Nabeel:
Yeah, the family… and, I mean, I think many of them become activists now. The whole nation – the revolution have made the whole nation activist. Imagine Bahrain government stopped journalists to get into the country, stopped the human rights organisations to get into the country, but most of the people, young people become journalists, become human rights activists, become bloggers, become internet…
Julian:
There’s a market opportunity now. [laughs]
Nabeel:
So thanks God and government of Bahrain have made such a young movement, which is… I think we’re going to benefit and the whole Arab world will benefit from them in their own revolutions as well.
Julian:
Alaa, your son is going to grow up into the new Egypt. Do you think you’re going to have the second child?
Alaa:
Oh yeah. No, we want a girl so I’m worried that we keep trying until we get a girl. Um, yeah. But about that… about whether he’d become an, you know, whether… There was this… a few weeks ago there was this massacre in… in a stadium in Port Said, and it was, it’s a… you know, it’s conspiracy, it was… It appears as just riots but it was very clearly orchestrated by the police and it was to be… and it was to cripple the Ultras, the football Ultras that we mentioned a lot, that have been giving the police a headache and have played such a crucial role in the… in the revolution. And 74 people died – we considered them martyrs of the revolution – most of them very young men. One of them is 14 years old, or I think three of them are 14 years old, and as with most revolutionaries in Egypt, I am very emotionally attached to the martyrs and their memory, and so as I was reading a poem, an anonymous poem written about this most famous one among the 14 years old called Anas, I had this… this thought that, like, now I need to bring up my son to hate football in order for him to be… to avoid being killed. And then I remembered http://cracks Khalid Saeed, who is a victim of police torture – he died in Alexandria, a man who died in Alexandria two years ago prior to the revolution but his face has been a symbol for the revolution – and he did nothing… There was, you know, there’s no way I can protect him. There is no point in telling… in… in raising my son to avoid being an activist, or even to be pro-regime or anything like that, because it doesn’t matter. When you have repression, the violence is so random that it’s going to affect you anyway. The injustice is so random that it is going to affect you anyway. You cannot guarantee, you know, a good life for your child unless you guarantee it for ever other child, and so that… it’s not in my hands, I can’t even do anything about it.
Julian:
Ok. Thank you gentlemen, that’s wonderful, but I’ll just ask a few… [laughs] Don’t go, don’t go – I just want to ask you a few little questions. So, you mentioned the Ultras and most… I know about the Ultras but most people in the West don’t know about the Ultras… and they seem…
Alaa:
Well, I thought they started in Italy.
[NR and AE talk in Arabic]
Julian:
The football teams.
Nabeel:
Ok.
Julian:
So tell me, who are the Ultras and what was their role in Egypt?
[off camera chat as SKYPE connection lost]
Alaa:
We lost connectivity, yes.
Julian:
Ok, we’re going to be back in just a moment. Alright, ok – you had me worried then.
Alaa:
I can’t see you, oh yes. No, no stand still, nothing governmental. [giggles]
Julian:
You mentioned the Ultras several times, and so this is a very interesting story about the football teams and the place that they played, the organisational role that they played in the Egyptian revolution – can you just describe where they came from and what role they played in the revolution?
Alaa:
Ok. So, the Ultras – or the Ultras – are independent football fan associations – er, football is soccer for any Americans out there – and what we mean by independent is that they’re not fan associations that are organised around the… the clubs themselves. In fact, the Ultras have an ideology and a philosophy that is against organised sports kind – like, they support the clubs very much but they hate the fact that governments and capital plays a role in football.
Julian:
They don’t like FIFA?
Alaa:
They don’t like?
Julian:
FIFA.
Alaa:
They don’t like FIFA, they don’t like the club owners, the club management, and the most important thing is they don’t like the police and if you work in a country where there is a strong Ultras existence you might see graffiti that says ACAB – A, C, A, B – and it means ‘All Cops Are Bastards’, which everybody agrees, um [laughs]… So, this is who they are, I think it started in Italy and it’s strong in certain countries in Latin America and Eastern Europe and so on, and they played a crucial role in the revolutions in Tunisia and in Egypt. The movement in the Arab world started in Tunisia and moved to Egypt very quickly – they’ve existed for the past five years, I think – and they’ve been involved in battles with the police from the very beginning. I’m not just talking about symbolic violence here, I’m talking about actual, you know, actually confronting the police. And they’ve been demonised in Egyptian media and painted as hooligans and as anarchists and as very violent kids and so on. Most people thought they came from very poor backgrounds and are kind of like thugs, or hired thugs, and so on, but the general population did not begin to realise who the Ultras were until the revolution started. And the Ultras from two major football clubs in Egypt decided to run the revolution full-on from the very first day, from the Facebook event. Some of them tell the story of being taunted by Tunisian Ultras telling them ‘We are men and we toppled Ben Ali and you are sissies and you can’t do anything about Mubarak’ and stuff like that. And so it’s an all-male organisation…
Alaa:
… it’s full of testosterone, it’s very young kids, but it’s amazing how widespread geographically it is and how it manages to cross faith and class boundaries. So, when… when some of the heroes of the Ultras fall, you know, it’s the most valid pictures. You’ve got poor kids and you’ve got kids who are in medical school and come from rich family and you’ve got most of the Christian martyrs come from the Ultras – sorry, I mean the recent ones, not during the whole year, and so on. In the revolution they’ve played two crucial roles. They’ve… they’ve always been at the front lines, they’ve always given, you know… they’ve played a key role at confronting the police, but also at helping us organise ourselves as we confront the police. They have experience with that, they know. So they help you, you know, practically but they also help you with the courage…
Alaa:
… that… that is required to face, um, government thugs. But they’re also… they’re very organised and they are massive in numbers, we’re talking about tens of thousands in any protest and probably there are… I don’t know, I don’t know the numbers, nobody knows. They’re… they’re like almost secretly organised and they’re hierarchical and so on, but they also come up with chants, and when they come up with chants they can be complicated rhythmic musical chants; they would have drumming; they would do a spectacle – so fireworks and so on – so they give a lot of spirit to protests and sit-ins. Um, and because they’ve been embraced, this is their experience in Egypt. In Tunisia, they haven’t been as much embraced. They’ve been embraced widely by Egyptian society, by… by all the activists, by all the revolutionaries, even by media…
Alaa:
…very positive coverage of them being treated as heroes and so on. They’ve grown into a much more politically aware movement, and so they’re quite impressive, even in… in the kind of… they issue statements that are very impressive. They make the right decisions at the right time. That massacre that I told you about was actually designed to… to instigate civilian… civilian violence. So, Ultras from a minor club from Port Said were infiltrated by police to stage a massacre, so that this would lead to like a blood feud, instead of the Ultras focusing on the revolution, but then because they’ve…
Julian:
What is… what is the role now of the Ultras in Egyptian society?
Alaa:
Well, they remain a strong part of the revolution. They are leading… they lead in organised protests, they join in protests, they join in confrontations. They haven’t had confrontations for the past three weeks, yay! But we had a vigil one, I think… No actually, only two weeks… Ok, so three weeks ago we had a vigil confrontation and they played a vigil part…
Julian:
Is… Do they have external communications, so they’re putting out press releases, they’re holding press conferences? Do they have a political platform? Do they… are they going into business?
Alaa:
No, they don’t want [inaudible]. They… they… No. Their philosophy does not allow them to appear in media but they issue statements on Facebook pages… they… they also bring… Yeah, they manage to bring the revolution to State TV because they… from the stadiums, so they do these, you know… Originally what they do is they do these massive, well-orchestrated thing – I don’t know what you call it – ways of supporting the teams, so you know, a chant when everybody is so well trained at… I mean, they fill the whole stadium and everybody is so well trained at the chant that it… that you cannot help but hear it very clearly, instead of the usual, you know, thing when… when you are hearing a sporting event where the audio sound is like [makes sound of white noise].
Julian:
What… what was the most popular Ultras chant during the revolution? Can you say it in English and in Arabic?
Alaa:
Yeah, so the most popular one… yeah, that’s the other thing, you know, that they are a bit obscene, you know. Um, which is pretty cool. So, the most famous one is about the police and it says [recites chant in Arabic]. There’s more to it but I’ll… They’re saying we did not for… telling the police, you know, they start supporting the club, they go to the stadium and they start, you know, chanting at the police. So they’re telling the police: ‘We have not forgotten Tahrir, the revolut… yeah, um, you bastards’. ‘We have not forgotten Tahrir, you bastards. The revolution was a major defeat for you’, and in a way that’s confrontational, like:’We defeat you again, and um, but what can you do? Our officers are [Arabic word]‘ – is a pretty harsh… like ‘sons of bitches’ or something like that. It’s a pretty harsh word. ‘We import new officers from China’. [laughs]
Julian:
And their… their leadership structure, is there one?
Alaa:
It’s quite hierarchical.
Julian:
It’s what? It’s quite hier…
Alaa:
It’s quite hierarchical.
Julian:
Yes.
Alaa:
Yeah, because capouls… they’re called capouls and they lead. So, they’re the leaderrs in the stadium, you know, they’re the ones that give you cues for time, cues to draw stuff with their bodies or with their scarves and so on, and they’re also their political leadership. But outside the stadium… in the stadium they’re a very, very tight hierarchical group, outside the stadium they’re much more organic and, you know, factions make decisions that the leadership does not agree to and so on, so they… they fit with the revolution pretty much.
Julian:
So they had some kind of pre-existing, almost military-like, physical discipline, which is why they were useful in physical combat?
Alaa:
They’re useful in terms of combat, but they’re also useful where you need to do a spectacle that is so organised, you know, that it requires discipline, and because they do it in the stadiums also State TV has to cover it because they are covering the football, so all of a sudden, you know, they draw Tantawi’s face with a… a hangman’s rope, and then it’s on State TV [laughs]. Tantawi is the Head of…
Julian:
I always thought… I always thought football was the opium of the masses, but it turns out it has some uses after all. Is… is there anything like this in Bahrain? Young people’s clubs of some kind?
Nabeel:
Well, first of all it’s different because we’ve been, er…
Nabeel:
They… http://breaks%20up they don’t play football in Bahrain.
Nabeel:
No, we do play football, but what I’m saying what is…
Alaa:
[talking over NR] so they have to… it’s a lot http://breaking%20up
Nabeel:
…what took the masses out… We have a history of revolting, we have a history of uprising in Bahrain government, so we didn’t need… we didn’t need any special groups, so when we started 14th of February, we saw everybody out in the street – doctors, nurses, teachers, unionists, human rights defenders, politicians – all together in the streets. Since I was a kid I’ve been protesting against government. Maybe it’s different than Egypt because for quite long time they didn’t have an uprising or revolution, so they needed something different, but in Bahrain maybe we didn’t have that…
Julian:
You had this big ’93 uprising.
Nabeel:
We have ’93 to now 2000, we had 80s, we had 70s, we have 60s, we have 50s – always we have, since the 20s. And so that’s why we were down there in the street with everybody, men, women, and for your information, the… the percentage of women participation is much higher than the men. And maybe it’s the only revolution in the Arab world… all those very conservative society, Bahrain – but what is striking, surprising, is the number of women came out in the streets is very high, and many times higher than men, and now they are guiding the revolution. So, we have built-in engine – maybe we didn’t have such a group in Bahrain – but we had built-in engine, it’s fuelled by the oppression, fuelled by the policies of the government, crimes and violation against human rights for the past many years, so people were ready to come out in the streets. So, they didn’t need maybe such thing or we didn’t have such groups like they had in Egypt.
Julian:
What… what do you think should be done – I’ll go to you, Alaa – What do think should be done with Syria, the situation in Syria, and what do you think about Nasrallah’s position on Syria?
Alaa:
Yeah, I don’t know what should be done… I mean, to me, the revolutions are a very local… they’re all about very local dynamics, even as… even when they’re confronting international interests, they’re very local dynamics. Um, and so I’m not sure how anybody can help Syria beyond showing solidarity and trying to… I think maybe showing solidarity on a massive scale the way that Tunisia and Egypt got, would help both Bahrain and Syria, but more so would help Syria because it would give… it would give the revolution the legitimacy it needs to really enter into the capital, you know, and stop having a split in the country on whether to support the revolution or not. Um, but I don’t think governments can do anything to help it, and I don’t want governments to do anything to help it, except maybe stop helping the regime. About Nasrallah, it’s… his situation, of course it’s horrible. One can understand how he sees the world from his point of view, but at… but at the end of the day, injustice is injustice. And the reason why… I mean, the reason why Assad was supporting resistance is – to Israel is – it doesn’t matter, but the reason why… but the reason why there was real support was because the Syrian people support the resistance…
Alaa:
… every Arab… most Arabs, you know, support the Palestinian cause and are not interested in the continuation of violence and want to see a true, just, you know, solution to the Arab/Israeli conflict, whether it’s on the South African…um, model or not is… is something that can be discussed. So… so it’s a stupid position to take, um, and it’s making the… it’s making the situation even worse.
Julian:
Nabeel, what do you think – foreign intervention?
Nabeel:
[talking over JA] We have to agree, we have to respect the people’s right in self-determination, whether Syrian or Bahrainis or Yemenis, and they have to choose the type of government they want, and we have to respect their struggle to have elected government, to have a democracy. At the same time, we have to ask the international community not to have double standard with different revolutions. We have to be aware of all reaction against Syria now, it’s not based on human rights but based on political differences they have with Syria, whether it’s the United States or whether it’s Saudi Arabian Arab countries. For example, you have Saudi Arabia and Qatar and non-democratic states fighting for democracy in Syria. It is a political position, got nothing to do with the human rights. I think the Syrian people should be left alone to fight for their right, to fight for their democracy, and not to interfere in their internal politics, by any government. As I ask the whole international community…
Nabeel:
… not to interfere in our internal politics – only pressure the government to respect its international obligation towards the human rights standard, but not to interfere as they did in Syria, I mean, as they did with Libya – I disagree totally on that – and as they’re doing with Syria now. I think that has to be left for the Syrians. United Nations in the… in the… has to work, but now what I can see from the intern… from the neighbouring country is something beyond the human rights, something below… beyond the… that of the right of Syrians, it’s more political. But at the same time, Syrian people are oppressed by dictators and they have the right to fight for democracy, and their… their decision has to be respected by all.
Julian:
What… what about foreign intervention? So, speak about…
Nabeel:
I’m against foreign… I’m against foreign intervention, whether… if it is military.
Julian:
So, if it’s approved…. What about non-mili… so freezing assets, freezing the central bank?
Nabeel:
It’s, er… No. Well, you can’t go… I mean, you can’t ask a human rights defender those details because it’s none of my business.
Julian:
Yeah.
Nabeel:
But what I’m saying… let it be revolution, don’t move this revolution into armed conflict. As we’re seeing, it’s heading to be armed conflict and civil… civil war; this is very dangerous. Leave things for the Syrians to decide and Syrian government have to respect also the demand of… legitimate demand of the people. The international community should not push, I mean the… other governments should not push the country into a civil war, as I’m seeing now. We should have a political solution in Syria,
Julian:
What… what about these countries around the outside? So, I want to get to a sort of a political concept of nationhood, so…
Nabeel:
Everybody is…
Julian:
…So, you speak about Syria should have the right to self-determination but, you know, Syria is just some lines on a map, so what about people in Lebanon? Should they be part of the… the process in Syria?
Nabeel:
Well, you can’t compare Lebanese situation in to… to Syria because…
Julian:
Yeah, but they’re the…
Nabeel:
At least they have a parliament, they have an elected prime minister. Yes, their sectarian problem, it’s freezing the whole thing, but still they have system, where in Syria, they don’t have system. I mean, the… it’s almost like a royal family, father to son…
Julian:
Yeah.
Nabeel:
Don’t have parliament of… or parliament does not have power, so it’s different. Yeah, but the whole nation, Arab nations, have the right on self-determination. In Saudi Arabia, in Qatar, in Bahrain, in Tunisia, in Lebanon, in Iraq – in all the country that has to be respected, and… in that standard I’m dealing with the situation here.
Julian:
So… so… but what should… what should neighbours do? So, neighbours of Bahrain, you know, is it right for them to just sit there and do nothing in relation to Bahrainian resistance?
Nabeel:
No, I’m… I’m saying don’t do like what you have done in Bahrain, but don’t interfere so much like what you’re doing in Syria. Just… first of all, have one package towards all revolutions: respect people, stick to the international standard, stick the international convention for human rights and stick to the standards being put up by United Nations. Don’t go ahead of that, respect all that – respect international law, don’t send the troops, don’t send arms without calculating all that – but that, at the same time, always you should stand with people, people will…
Julian:
but what about… so you… so you agree with Nasrallah’s position in relation to Syria?
Nabeel:
Well again, you don’t ask me in a detailed political position of a political party.
Julian:
Yeah.
Nabeel:
I mean, I’m… I’m against that, of course, but he’s a political party, he’s calculating it from his point of view, as facing Israel and they are helping… but I’m calculating from an international human rights convention, from international criteria and standard, which… it’s different, it’s different. I think Syrian people need to have help from the international community.
Julian:
But what does that mean? What type of help? Should… I mean, both for Bahrain and for Syria, what type of help should be given? Is it money? Is it arms? Is it information? Is it trade embargos? Is it seizing bank assets?
Nabeel:
I think the whole international community has a diff… should have one policy. Now we have a problem – Russia playing silent on Syria, and America playing silent on Bahrain.
Julian:
Saudi and Bahrain.
Nabeel:
On Saudi and Bahrain, and this is…- both is wrong. I think they should have one position. They should support any democratic movement; they should support any movement that’s fighting for justice and freedom and human rights, that has to be the standard. Now away from the detail, how to do this and how to do that, that’s left to the politician, left to the decision-makers in those countries. What I’m saying, let’s just stick to human rights, let’s just stick to the standard, and help all these nations to achieve their goal, but in a peaceful means. Blood will not solve problem. Crisis, war, conflict, arms will not… but will create hatred among people – this is what is worrying in Syria now. It’s not that tomorrow they’ll finish the… because now thousands of people were killed from both sides, from the… whether it’s the army or from the people, that’s why we insist…
Nabeel:
… in Bahrain to make it peaceful, although we have lost a lot of people, a lot of people were killed, but we still are holding people not to react in a violent means, because we know violence means killing, means hatred, which will stay for the tens of years in the future. We don’t want that to happen. We didn’t want that to happen in Libya, we didn’t want that to happen in Syria, but because of the interference of many countries, because of politics, because of interests, because of arms and because of oil, that’s what happened. And that’s not going to heal easily in those country, and this is the dangers that I’m worried. I’m… I’m… my personal view, I’m want a political compromise in Syria now. Better than seeing a tenth of people who are killed by government in a… in a daily basis, or by opposition also. That will not… that will make the gap wider… it will make deeper the conflict and crisis, because people die. Those people belong to families, belong to tribes, belong to city – means you are creating more hatred and more hatred, that’s very dangerous. I’m worried about the Syrian situation, as I’m worried about Libyan situation, which is still not done. It’s in a way and we don’t know where it is heading.
Julian:
Alaa, this question I have, it’s sort of a… the pan-Arab activism, or pan-Arab activists, you can see on the one side we have Qatar aggressively supporting regime change in Libya and in Syria – as a state – but also, on the other hand, we’ll…we see Arab activists sharing information, moving from state to state – um, some of our people were involved in trying to smuggle satellite dishes into Bahrain, finding the bridge closed then trying to bring it back into Egypt and finding there was no need by the time… by the time they got there. So, on the one hand, there is actually a genuine trade, language relationships between the Arab states, on the other hand, we have people saying that there should not be intervention between one state and another. And then you have the West and countries like the United States, or even Australia, thinking about intervening – and actually intervening in the case of Libya, and possibly Syria. Um, what’s the right balance between these forces? Is it sort of intergrationalist forces between people and between states or isolationist forces?
Alaa:
You see, this is why… this is exactly why I talked about the dream, because there is no… there is no true solution, that is trying to integrate the interests of States and the interests of people. So the only way out of all of this is to stick the dream, and you can very much see – the fact that it starts with… with Bouazizi in Tunis and spreads like there – you can very much see then there’s some fundamental truth to pan-Arabism. There’s a dream factor, then there’s a fundamental truth to it, but what we need is a pan-Arabism from below. It’s not one that is built on, you know, leaders and governments and so on, so it’s… so it’s not something that Nasrallah has a role in or something that, you know, even an elected president has a role in, it’s something that the people are going to build. And… but again, given… you’ve got to give substance to this before you… you are able to articulate it, and we’re still far from articulating exactly how this should work…
Alaa:
…and the way – and I think here, you know, I… I subscribe to some conspiracy theories – and the way… the way the West intervenes, all the other forces like Russia and Iran and… and so on intervenes… and Saudi – is exactly to make sure that this idea is never full articulated, because the moment it’s articulated, then it will become powerful enough that it has to be, you know, that it… I don’t know if it will have to become reality, but enough people will be working on it. So, military intervention in Libya… there was a crisis, Gaddafi was using such, you know, levels of violence against the people that they did… you know. I cannot from outside, you know, pretend that I can talk about whether this was a good idea or bad idea, but I also know that when the revolution started in Libya, I was in conversation with Tunisian friends that we both supported each other during the revolutions, and we were talking about high-speed rails – from Cairo to Tunis – passing through Libya… I mean, we were almost imagining what it means for these people to be open to each other and integrate more. Um, when the revolution started in Libya, we were still drunk with the victory, I mean, it was seven, literally seven days after Mubarak fell, and so we were still…
Alaa:
… drunk with the victory of it, and we thought, you know, things are settled in Egypt. So the… the field hospital that was created in Tahrir, a lot of it – all the medicine and a lot of the volunteers – moved to Libya to support the people there. So, we want an Arab revolution, you know. There… this is… this is very real, um, and so our hearts are also in… in Syria, and we want… So, I don’t want a political compromise in Syria – I mean, I’m seeing a political compromise in Yemen that is killing the revolution there. I hope I’m seeing it wrong and I hope it’s going… it’s… it’s stronger than what I am seeing – so I don’t want a political solution but I… but at the same time I cannot, you know, from outside… I don’t understand what the situation is, it’s not me who is being killed there. It’s not my family who is being killed there. I cannot sit here and discuss whether civil war should be avoided by military intervention, or whether civil war shouldn’t be avoided at all because this is the only way that… that’s going to cleanse the regime completely or whatever. This is not up for me to say, so the fact that I want pan-Arabism…
Alaa:
… does not mean that I make decisions for others. And that’s not… and that’s not because I’m reinforcing the notion of State – I don’t make decisions for the people in Suez either, and I don’t even make decisions for the Ultras, they make decisions for themselves. The problem with Syria is that the opposition that speaks for the revolution is… is from the elite. I’ve seen the elite in Egypt and they don’t… they’ve… they think they speak for the revolution but they don’t, they’ve always consistently failed to actually represent the revolution. Someone now… someone has to step up. I’m also not, you know, saying that elites are by definition bad. Eventually an elite has to rise up – or, you know, not an elite but, you know, some people – have to rise up that can…
Julian:
An authority.
Alaa:
…translate the people’s will. They don’t have to become an authority, they have to become a voice. They can translate the people’s will, they can articulate, you know, what the movement of the masses means, because the people they… when the people mobilise they typically… their mobilisation is much more progressive than their own discourse, and so someone needs to be able to rise up and… and, you know… And it’s a… it’s a process of translation, it’s… I’ll be a bit egoistic and say that I… like my… I fit in… like, three articles that are – one of them is the one that you read – that have been so widely read and so widely shared in Egypt, and I think it’s because I managed to successfully do a bit of that – not all of it, but a bit of that – and it’s, you know, it’s this moment when you read something and you say ‘This is exactly what I believe in…’
Alaa:
‘…this is exactly what I feel’. It’s not that I… that I could convince you of something, that it’s… no, it’s actually the I could manage to translate what you feel and what you believe in and what you think into written form. We need to do that… I’m doing… I’m… I’ve participated in doing that on the narrative level but not on the discourse, not on offering solutions, not on imagining what it looks like, this thing that we are moving towards with the revolution, what does it look like? We… we don’t have that yet.
Julian:
Nabeel, is there a pan-Arab voice?
Nabeel:
What do you want to say exactly?
Julian:
Um, this… the different… the way that we looked at it, if we go back to December 2010, the way that WikiLeaks was looking at what we hoped was going to happen in the Arab world, is that there was an… there’s an interdependency between the states in the Arab world, so you have Saudi propping… propping up a lot of people, and there’s also a dependency from outside as well, with the French and the Americans and even Israel being involved in propping up some of these regimes. And they form together a web, and when some of those lines in the web get broken because these regimes have to turn inwards to deal with their own problems they are not able to spend time giving intelligence information on other activists, giving intercepted phone calls, supplying weapons, or in the case of Bahrain sending… sending in troops, because they have to deal with their own problems. So, there… there is a type of pan-Arab statism, that’s a fact – you have the six Gulf States in a union – is… is there another type of pan-Arabism from below?
Nabeel:
You don’t know, still the situation is not completed yet. The whole world, whether it’s Israel or United States, are sure that’s not the end of it – and we are sure it’s not going to be… remain like what it is today, it’s going to be different. Where it’s going to go, when it’s going to stop, here’s what you don’t know yet. So, you can’t make… you cannot make any calculation as of now, because it’s still in a way, it’s still going to where it’s heading, where it’s going to stop. I think the whole world is just waiting and watching – the United States from one side, European governments, are waiting very carefully and watching.
Julian:
But do you… do you think, I mean, the US was waiting? It seems…
Nabeel:
They didn’t know about it.
Julian:
It seems they… they didn’t know about it, but it seems that they very quickly saw what was going on and then, in the case of Egypt and Tunisia after the event – they were too late, but then they said ‘Ok, we support these governments now that they are in power’ – but in…
Nabeel:
Yeah, but then again…
Julian:
…but in… but in Libya it seems like they regained the initiative.
Nabeel:
Yeah, I mean, those governments where they… they have a problem with there, they reacted… they reacted by sending the troops but they made them recalculate many times that’s why in Bahrain they played totally different position. And this is the same thing, they are going to…
Julian:
What… what was the US… [Arabic dialogue over Skype] … Oi! [Laughs] … Alaa!
Alaa:
Ok, ok, bye…Yeah, er, sorry!
Julian:
Shush!
Alaa:
I have to inform my wife. The fact that I’ve been delayed.
Julian:
Ok, you’re forgiven. [Laughs] What was the US response to the uprising in Bahrain?
Nabeel:
It is very clear now they’re supporting the government and it’s very clear that they think…
Julian:
But what about at the time? Were they not sure which side to be on, or not sure immediately?
Nabeel:
They were… no, no, in the beginning, they were. They thought it’s going to be as fast as Egypt. They ask the Bahrain government to respect people demand, they ask… but then when the Bahrain government call the Saudis and they grabbed the situation, then again you see the US government’s stand in taking the side of the Bahraini government. Now they are beside the Bahraini government, and they ask… In fact, indirectly they’re pushing the opposition to accept whatever being given by the government and to go and just finish all the protests and the revolution have an end to it. But after all, it is not the Americans who is going to do it, after all it’s not the Saudi Arabians, it’s the people. Commitment. Continuous struggle. And this is what we have seen in the past month, they were… people were not tired, people are continuing their protests and uprising and they’re who we depend on, not that. When we started our revolution we did not depend on the Americans, we didn’t depend on the…
Nabeel:
… international community, we depended on our own people. We didn’t ask for help – no financial, no military, no… we depended on ourselves, that’s why we could continue until today. And that’s why I’m very positively optimistic that we’re going to win the battle after all. I don’t know how long it takes, it might take longer time than the Egyptian revolution, than the Tunisian revolution – it dead anyway. But I think that the whole Arab world’s going to change. You take it or leave it, it’s going to change. Either to cope with the situation, with the changes, or tomorrow you’re going to realise yourself isolated power. And I think Americans, by standing with oppressive regimes in the Gulf region, supporting governments like Saudis dictatorship and Bahrain and other countries in the Gulf, will not help their longer strategic interests.
Julian:
Do you think there needs to be, um, there needs to be a revolution in the United States?
Nabeel:
I think there has to be a revolution within the system, within the political system, within the regime.
Julian:
Is it… is it even right to talk about the United States? Or are we talking about some bigger phenomena – the United States together… together with France… together with… – the sort of… this interconnection of the West?
Nabeel:
Well, I’m saying… now, I don’t want to go in detail complication that you are trying to take me to, because it’s not my business, but what I am saying is whoever goes to the United States can see the difference between the people of… American people and between the political system. It has a lot of differences, between how people respect human rights, how people respect the outside world, how people respect other countries’ rights and nations’ rights of self-determination, rights of everything, but when it comes to government – politics, interests, oil, arms deals – they’re where the… the foreign policy depend on. And I think one day it will come that the political system will have a revolution. I’m not talking about a revolution like the Iranian revolution, because I cannot pretend – I mean I can’t imagine – things like that might happen. What I’m saying is the political system, people will realise that they are so far away from political system that it does not represent the American normal citizen… the American foreign policy, it does not represent the normal American citizen. People will realise that. The political system…
Nabeel:
…will have a revolution. This is what I believe. Because the existing foreign policy of United States has cost a lot of money, cost a lot of lives, and the United States government are not saying the actual story to their own people. Just blaming the other people – by calling them either terrorists or by calling them bad – but they’re not saying the actual story, why people are against United States around the world, why they’re opposing the American existence in this country and that. They’re not saying the actual story, what people will realise one day – that they were misleaded by the government. Many of the problems around the world because of the wrong policy of foreign policy of United States. I think a lot of problem we have, those dictators exist in our region today because of the support of the United States. If United States were not there, those dictators would not exist, and this is… American normal citizen has to know this reality.
Julian:
Alaa, when you saw these protests in… for Occupy Wall Street spreading from New York to San Francisco, as an Egyptian…
Alaa:
And the biggest movement in Europe? Like the Uncut UK, er…UK Uncut actually, but…
Julian:
…yeah, in Spain, with the Indignados… were you proud?
Alaa:
Yeah, very much.
Julian:
You know, here in… here in London…
Alaa:
It’s an obvious, um…
Julian:
Here in London… Let me re-do this question. Um, here in London the Occupy protests at St Paul’s Cathedral in London have re-named the street Tahrir Square. So when… when you saw that happen in London, civil movements in Spain, in the protests by the Occupy movement spread from New York to San Francisco, as an Egyptian, were you proud?
Alaa:
Yeah, as I’m saying there’s a certain voyeuristic pleasure in seeing Tahrir Square become a symbol – the notion of occupation, occupying a Square and so on – being replicated worldwide. I remember with the labour mobilisation in Michigan, people were saying – oh, and Winconsin – sorry, it was Winconsin and [inaudible], it was Winconsin and another place people were saying this is a… like a side effect of Egypt, so all that gives you, you know, a lot of nationalistic pleasures, but I’m also… I’m, you know, trying to be optimistic about these movements and that it’s going to lead to something because I think, you know, we need a worldwide revolution – like, the only place that does not require a revolution on this planet is maybe Iceland, because they’ve just had one – that is potentially more deep than… than any of the other revolutions. The only places on this planet where reform could work, you know, and be close enough to the aspirations of the people are maybe Brazil and, you know, like also some Latin American…
Alaa:
…countries where democracy… there’s still justice there but their democracies seem to be of a fundamentally perverse, um, nature… but you’re presented as democracies, heavily centralised governments, heavily militarised states. This is not working out – and it’s very clearly not working out – and, in fact, people are losing many of the benefits, you know, of… of these democracies. We’re seeing in India corruption is very rife; in the US corruption is so systematic that it’s not called corruption but it leads to a… to a financial crisis that leads the whole world… Um, we’re seeing a police state trying to emerge out of, you know, out of new technologies and but also out of the War on Terror, in the UK and in the US and in France and so on…
Alaa:
And it’s as ridiculous as [inaudible] police state yet in comparison to maybe Egypt, but it’s as ridiculous in how it justifies itself. I think you’ve got cameras all over London because this is going to allow us to prevent crime and social unrest, and then social unrest happens with the riots, you know, and London burns, and then the cameras are being used to prosecute the kids. So, were they a preventive measure, or are they… um…[inaudible]
Julian:
Did you… I was… I was here in the UK under house arrest at that time and David Cameron, the UK Prime minister, came on just a few days afterwards and said that he would have the UK intelligence agencies spy on all the Facebook, Twitter and Blackberry messenger and erect systems to be able to shut down Blackberry messages and Facebook and Twitter. Did you hear about that? And as… as an Egyptian who has just suffered this precise same thing under Mubarak during the revolution, what did you think?
Alaa:
It is exactly… I actually tried to… to talk about that in an industry meeting in Silicon Valley and people didn’t get the point at all. But I… you know, the worst thing about the communication cut-off was two costs, you know, the cost of human lives that were lost because you couldn’t provide aid, because people couldn’t communicate, and the other is… it’s much more… it’s less tangible, which is, you know, you were even prevented from knowing – so, you know, knowing that your loved one was in the street at this place, or trying to die… Like, the benefits of having Facebook and Twitter and also so widely used is that many of the people who fell in the revolution have left final words. Maybe they didn’t know they were final words, maybe they knew, but there is a memory of them that is shared and collective that is out there, and in many cases this memory is moments before, you know, they left us, and by… by cutting off communication, you are preventing us from this also.
Alaa:
So you are preventing us from everything. You are preventing us from the rioter telling his story, maybe it makes sense, maybe there is a reason why they are rioting, and you are preventing us from the victims, whether it is the victim of the police suppression or the victim of the rioters themselves or the victim of an accident or whatever, of telling us that they were there at this moment, and their loved ones and their families how they died and why they died, and, you know, also preventing us from being able to mount any action. If I was… if the logic is that the rioters are mindless criminals, and I was not one of them but I was stuck in the middle of it, how would a communication blackout help me? You know, I’m… I’m… in David Cameron’s logic, he’s not trying to help the individual British citizen even if they were upstanding and law-abiding, he is trying to help the State.
Alaa:
He’s interested in the buildings and the symbol and the authority, but not in the people, not in the people who were driven to do this – and he’s not interested in understanding them at all, they are just mindless criminals – and not in the people who are not driven to do this, and who were not participating in it but they were seeing their livelihood, or their lives being taken or whatever, he is just interested in… in material stuff, you know, rocks and buildings and goods and money and so on. So, this is what this is all about, and this is why it’s failing, and this is why a revolution is required. And I think Obama proves why a revolution is required. I mean, it’s like… you know, a supposedly different campaign, completely different way of doing politics, completely different discourse, he’s even different racially and so on. It’s such a fundamental…
Alaa:
… victory for democracy in a very real way. I was happy – I mean, I didn’t expect anything from him – but I was happy because it means something. But still, it doesn’t change the reality of people’s daily lives, it doesn’t change poverty, and it doesn’t change war and it doesn’t change, um, climate change and it doesn’t change… It didn’t even close Guantanamo. It changes nothing.
Nabeel:
I go to bathroom? Or, er …
Julian:
Yeah, yeah. Last question, last question.
Alaa:
[giggles] Yeah!
Julian:
Sorry man. Um, ok, I just want perhaps a final question. What is your – other than needing to go to the bathroom – what is your current status? Right now, in terms… legally…
Nabeel:
Well, I’ve been interrogated several times, couple of them on my Twitter account – because of my Twitter account, and my Twitter account is very disturbing to the ruling elite – and now they came to my house yesterday. I don’t know if they will arrest me or not, those interrogations, I don’t know if they’re going to end up to the court cases against me, but I will not be surprised if… that I’m being put in jail, and… but that… that’s not going to stop my struggle and activity. And tomorrow, even if they put me in jail, there are a lot of people to carry on, other than me.
Julian:
And Alaa, where are you at legally? Are you in the clear now?
Alaa:
No. Um, I am still pending prosecution. The case is under investigation, I am banned from travel and I am accused of murders, sabotage of public property, mainly military APCs, stealing military weapons, [others laugh] inciting illegal assent for the purpose of terrorism, um… and, um… – what is it?… the name of that charge in English, when you are… you don’t subject yourself to authorities? – there’s a name for it…
Julian:
Resisting arrest.
Alaa:
Resisting authorities, yeah resisting… Well, I wasn’t even arrested, because I wasn’t tested… they sent summons to my house. So yeah, so I’m basically accused of beating the hell out of a couple of platoons, stealing their weapons and then killing one of them… one soldier…
Julian:
So you’re alleged to be a very naughty boy?
Alaa:
Yeah, and a superman also. [others laugh] I’m capable of doing stuff that would be impossible… confronting APCs on my own and so on.
Julian:
And when is…?
Alaa:
… and I have witnesses that… the prosecution witnesses have testified to me being in two places at the same time, yet I am still being investigated, so I’m obviously capable of way more, you know, many superpowers, but er… which is pretty awesome. I had a good reputation and street cred in prison.
Julian:
You have a bit of… you have a bit of street cred now with those, um…
Alaa:
No, no, no, but also among the criminal underground because, you know, when people go to prison because they steal cars and… but I’m being accused of stealing tanks…
Julian:
[Laughs] and when is your next court date?
Alaa:
Well, it hasn’t… the case hasn’t been sent to court, so it’s… it’s with a magistrate and it’s pending investigation, so…
Julian:
I see.
Alaa:
So, since he doesn’t… since he’s not interested in questioning me anymore, yeah, but he’s working on it, he’s questioning a whole lot of people, he’s almost questioning every single well-known Christian in the country, um, for instance there’s a…. http://breaks%20up
Julian:
And how do you… how do you think you will go?
Alaa:
Um, I think the fact that they had to let me go means that they cannot actually, um, they cannot, you know, …
Nabeel:
There were a lot of pressure also.
Alaa:
…properly prosecute me.It’s, er… but I think they’re waiting, they’re biding their time, hoping. I mean, I don’t know if they are particularly interested in me or just the idea that they want to use courts as a tool against activists, and as a legitimate tool, you know, it’s… it’s not enough to be able to beat the hell out of them, it’s not enough to be able to kill people. In fact, even when they do targeted killings – like, we think they are targeted killings – they are targeting people who are very crucial on the ground but they’re not well known. So, they are stuck with this, you know, with the famous activist dilemma, what do you do about them? And I think they are trying to build a legitimacy for using the courts against us and it keeps backfiring, but they… they’re biding their time, I mean, so that’s why the case is still on, and that’s why I am still accused. Maybe they will eventually manage to tarnish my image enough, and… and they are working on it, I’m… I’m being accused of holding pro-gay views, for instance, and – which again, you know, good street cred so… but yeah…
Julian:
Good street cred with who? [Laughs]
Alaa:
With the crowd I like, so it doesn’t matter. [Laughs] No, I mean, oh man, this going to be very wrong, I mean, that’s like human rights defenders and so on, I defend anybody. It’s like… so I think they are… I think they think they will eventually win back legitimacy, and that’s… that’s the bit that I’m very confident about, um, legitimacy is out of the window.
Julian:
Ok.
Alaa:
And that’s the bit, you know… and that’s the major difference between maybe Egypt and, you know, a place like the US – the State is still legitimate so you can’t really have a revolution, and still the State is completely illegitimate in the minds of the majority.
Julian:
Ok, thank you so much Alaa, for… for all this.
Nabeel:
You told him thank you before an hour an a half also [laughs].
Julian:
Thank you. This poor man, let him go… but, um, that was very good, I learnt a lot.
Nabeel:
How long we spoke?
Julian:
Um, maybe two hours, something like this. Two hours.
Nabeel:
More like three hours.
Alaa:
I think we… maybe you should release the real thing after you do the edited thing, because I don’t think you can put all of the two hours in.
Julian:
We will try and squash this down to twenty five minutes and will not succeed, but yes, we’ll try and make a longer… a longer version if… if we can. Anyway thanks, thanks very much.
Nabeel:
And I say hello to your father and your father in law, Bahee.
Alaa:
Yes [Speaks in Arabic].
Nabeel:
[Speaks in Arabic]
Alaa:
[Speaks in Arabic]
Nabeel:
Inshallah, he’s ok.
Alaa:
He’s ok, bye. Ok, goodbye!
Nabeel:
Yeah, see you.
Alaa:
Thank you, see you again. I will disconnect.
Julian:
Why don’t you go to the bathroom now?
Nabeel:
Where is the bathroom?
Julian:
I’ll show you, it’s not far.


Posted By Blogger to The Absurd Times at 5/20/2012 04:41:00 PM

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