The One Who Has Coins… | Istico Battistoni
The One Who Has Coins… Print
Istico Battistoni   
The One Who Has Coins… | Istico Battistoni
On October 23rd 2010, the Court of Alexandria met for the second time in order to listen to the witnesses of the killing of a young man by two members of the Egyptian security in the heart of the Mediterranean city, at the beginning of last June. The case of Khāled Sa’ēd, which I wrote about earlier in this magazine, has become a symbolic test for the perspectives of democratization of Egypt. The victim was murdered in front of the Internet Café he was hanging out at, probably because he was in possession of tangible proof accusing the police of corruption in handling with drug dealers. According to the early statements of the police and the government, the young man was a drug addict, and he died from suffocation because he swallowed a bag of hashish before the policemen could grasp it; however, at the trial witnesses declared that they saw the two policemen pushing the bag in his throat and beating him to death. Several media sources reported that the policemen’s lawyers brought the results of a urine test apparently belonging to Khāled Sa’ēd and containing drug traces to the Court, but the legal doctor in charge of forensic examinations at the local medical unit declared that he never ordered such an exam.

On the trial’s day, the Court was surrounded or better said, protected by dozens of central security forces. On the stairs of the building, the families and the friends of the two indicted policemen ‘Awadh Suleimān and Mahmūd Salāh were protesting against the trial, while human right activists and young demonstrators were forced to run a sit-in far away from the Court district, after having been clearly warned that in case of public gathering in front of the Court they would be arrested. The pro-policemen protestors were holding placards stating “Khāled Sa’ēd in prison!” (what a pity that Khāled is dead…), or “Policemen are sons of Egypt and of our people”, “Oh God, free us from the Jews”, a statement where the word “Jews” is associated to all what is bad for the country, though no Jews were involved…

I do not want to comment on the placards, which denote a strong measure of biased partiality and prejudice. What impressed me the most, when I saw the deployment of security forces in the district I was walking in that morning, was that those forces were not there to protect the citizens and the judiciary arena. They were there to safeguard those demonstrating on the side of the accused policemen, and to prevent alternative demonstrations of public disagreement. While the activists who gathered in the district where Khāled Sa’ēd’s killing took place were crying that: “This affair is more than the punishment of a young man”; or that “it is about the nation facing a despotic system”; or again that “the corruption has purchased the country and its citizens”…

That day, I saw a portrait of the ravages of the Emergency Law, imposed since 1981 and running roughshod over basic rights and freedom, despite the fact they are guaranteed by the Egyptian Constitution, through personal freedom, freedom of movement and the right of peaceful assembly. The Emergency Law gives in fact the State several powers infringing the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, including the power to search, arrest and detain suspects, or to stop the circulation of publications and other expressions of opinion, or to include the military in the courts’s formation, thus undermining the independence of the judiciaries and the immunity of judges.

Khāled Sa’ēd’s story also reminded me of an amusing picture a friend of mine showed me a few weeks before in Cairo standing for what the Power in the country does, and the way goods and persons are purchased. It was the photograph of a perfectly designed poster with the head of President Mubarak’s son looking ahead with a proud and self-satisfied expression, right in front of an icon of his father; the poster carried the following comment in Arabic at the bottom: “If you offer your son a cell phone, then you are a gentle type; if you offer your son a car, then you are a generous man; but when you offer your son a country and its people he and his friends can play with, then you are blessed”. And the Arabic word for “blessed” is “Mubārak”!

This is of course not the kind of wall chart or banner you will see in the streets of Cairo or Alexandria. If you travel now to Egypt, you will distinguish its streets decorated by thousands of ads showing President Mubarak’s son. The 28th of November 2010, is the day of parliamentary elections, and the Family is showing off to pave the way for next year’s presidential elections (September 11, 2011), when Mubarak junior will run without rivals, as the law bars different candidates from the race unless the ruling National Democratic Party approves them… In other words: the System chooses its own opponents to legitimize itself, without putting its supremacy in danger.

Let’s give the dates a closer look: November 28th is election day. November 27th is the day when the third session of the Alexandria’s Court on the Khāled Sa’ēd’s case will be held. Is this a coincidence? “I do not think there is any coincidence that the case will resume right before the elections”, has recently declared Yūssef Ghānam, Khāled Sa’ēd’s friend claiming for justice, to bikyamasr.com .

An Egyptian proverb says: “The one who has coins gets confused. He buys pigeons and he sets them free”, meaning: When you are used to have too much, you loose the good sense and do not know what to do with it. Especially when you get a country and its people for free. Participants in the sit-in for Khāled Sa’ēd were denouncing the fact that what kills people’s spirit is not only the lack of freedom and justice, but also “the crazy speed of inflation and prices increase” (according to the Egyptian Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, last September witnessed a significant hike in food prices, as vegetable prices soared by 51 %, meat and poultry by 28.6 %, and milk, cheese and eggs by 10.1 %, in a country where spending on food and drink consumes the bulk of the income of the working-class Egyptian family), “unemployment” (11.7 % in urban areas in the same month), and “degradation of public health and education, and of public services in general”. The one who has coins…

Let me present a couple of common examples. What has always fascinated me when traveling to Egypt has been the way how green lanes in the middle of very visible avenues are carefully preserved and maintained, on the roads to airports for example, while inhabitants of increasingly grey and polluted urban areas do not have access to proper green facilities or parks. Or the incredible number of licensed private big cars like Land Rovers or BMW, while public buses are old, slow and rotten, poisoning the air with their old engines. This is how apparently this country has been kidnapped by some for the benefit of a few, and the pleasure of the innocent visitor.

But Mubarak’s rule fascinates others. When I hear the political class of my country, Italy, publicly showing friendship and admiration for leaders like the Mubaraks or the Gheddafis, I only get scared. This is an indicator of the values that inspire current political guidance. And the results can in fact be measured: take the 2010 issue of Transparency International’s annual report on corruption, which assesses the record of countries around the world on legality, rule of law and good governance. There, Italy moves down compared to the 2009 index, getting ranking number 67 (score 3,9 in a scale from 10 to 0) and approaching Egypt number 98 (score 3.1), and Libya (2.2).

Unfortunately true: The one who has coins…

Istico Battistoni
(20/11/2010)