April 4, 2011 Special Dispatch No. 3740

Egyptian Author Alaa Al-Aswany Criticizes the Military for Undermining the Achievements of the Revolution in Egypt

April 4, 2011
Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 3740

In two recent articles in the Egyptian independent daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm, bestselling Egyptian author Alaa Al-Aswany has been voicing cautious criticism of the Egyptian military administration. Al-Aswany, best known for his novel The Yacoubian Building and a regular contributor to the Egyptian press on literature, politics, and social issues, warns about a "vicious counter-revolution" threatening to undermine the achievements of the January 25 revolution in Egypt.

A prominent critic of the regime in Egypt and a member of the Kefaya opposition movement, Al-Aswany recently published a book titled On the State of Egypt: A Novelist's Provocative Reflections, consisting of English translations of his weekly columns published in the Egyptian press.[1] Following the revolution, a new edition of the book is due to be published under the title The State of Egypt: What Made the Revolution Inevitable, with a preface on the significance of Al-Tahrir Square.[2]

In a March 23, 2011 article titled "Lest the Revolution Turn into a Wasted Opportunity", Al-Aswany wrote that Egypt's modern history is "replete with lost opportunities for democratization" and called to make sure that the January 25 revolution does not suffer the same fate, in light of the "vicious counter-revolution" being waged by forces both from within and outside Egypt. He warned that domestic forces, including members of the former ruling NDP party, which remained entrenched across Egypt, were executing a plan to thwart the revolution by inciting chaos and terrorizing the Egyptians, by holding selective trials without placing former President Mubarak on trial, and by instating limited constitutional amendments that do not reflect the will of the people. On top of that, he wrote, the Muslim Brotherhood was polarizing the Egyptians on the basis of religion and undermining the national unity nurtured by the revolution.

Al-Aswany expressed concern that "proceeding with the transition process at such a rapid pace [was] against the interests of Egypt and the revolution" and called for a change in Egypt's candidate-centered electoral system, which, he warned, would lead the NDP and the Muslim Brotherhood to win most of the seats in elections.

He warned that foreign forces were also mounting pressure against the Egyptian authorities, writing that Arab rulers, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE, were trying to ensure that Mubarak was not placed on trial, and that "both American and Israeli officials... know [Egypt] will become a powerful regional force in a matter of years, if it becomes a democracy."

On March 29, 2011, Al-Aswany published an allegorical tale of a jungle, in which the animals (the Egyptians) revolt against the elephant king (former President Hosni Mubarak), only to discover that their perceived ally, the lion (the military establishment), maintains loyalty to the elephant. In this allegory, titled "What Did the Monkey Tell the Lion?", the Egyptian security apparatuses are portrayed as wolves, the corrupt regime officials as pigs, and the youth of the revolution as giraffes. Al-Aswany's message is conveyed through the monkey, who warns the other animals that the army, far from being on their side, is in fact thwarting the revolution and enabling the Mubarak regime to continue its corrupt rule of Egypt. The tale is open-ended, with the reader left wondering about the lion's final decision: will he side with the animals or align himself with the erstwhile king?

Excerpts from the two articles are presented below.

"Lest the Revolution Turn into a Wasted Opportunity"

The following English translation of Al-Aswany's article was published in the English edition of Al-Masri Al-Yawm.[3]

Wasted Opportunities in the History of Egypt

Following are excerpts from Al-Aswany's article:

"Following the successful 1919 revolution and after the British occupying forces succumbed to the will of the Egyptian people, King Farouq [sic][4] established a committee to draft a new constitution. The committee was appointed rather than elected. Nationalist leader Sa'd Zaghloul objected, demanding that a constituent assembly be elected to ensure the constitution reflects the will of the people. But King Farouq [sic] insisted on his position. The appointed committee drafted the 1923 constitution, which gave the king the right to dissolve parliament at any time. This grave constitutional deficiency ruined political life by turning parliament into a tool for the king. Zaghloul's Wafd party, which held a majority of seats in parliament, took power only once over the course of the next 30 years.

"Oddly, Zaghloul accepted the 1923 constitution, despite its defects. As Egypt’s uncontested leader at the time, he could have called on Egyptians to insist on their right to a just and democratic constitution. But the opportunity was lost.

"After the 1952 revolution, Egypt wasted another opportunity for democratization. The anti-democracy current within the Free Officers dominated the revolution and on 16 January, 1953, they issued a decision to dissolve all political parties and confiscate their money and offices. The Wafd party was the majority party at the time and could have mobilized the public against dictatorship, in which case the officers would have retreated and Egypt’s democratic system would have been preserved. But the Wafd party did not raise any objections. This was another wasted opportunity for Egypt. Instead, the country remained under authoritarian rule for the next 60 years.

"Unfortunately, Egypt’s history is replete with lost opportunities for democratization. We now have another opportunity, which I hope will not be lost. The 25 January revolution forced Hosni Mubarak to step down. Hundreds of Egyptians sacrificed their lives for the sake of freedom. Since its inception, however, the revolution was confronted with a vicious counter-revolution — both inside and outside of Egypt."

Saudi Arabia and the UAE Exert Pressure to Ensure Mubarak's Impunity; U.S. Fears an Independent Egypt

"A few days ago, the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Dar reported that Egyptian authorities are under massive pressure from Arab rulers, especially from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, to ensure that Mubarak is not tried. The report asserted that these Arab states had directly threatened to freeze all relations with Cairo, cut all financial assistance, and withdraw their investments from Egypt. They even went as far as threatening to dismiss the 5 million Egyptians working in those countries, if Mubarak were to be tried.

"...Both American and Israeli officials recognize Egypt’s potential and know it will become a powerful regional force in a matter of years, if it becomes a democracy.

"Writing for The Guardian, prominent American intellectual Noam Chomsky argued that the United States supports authoritarianism in Egypt not because of its fears of Islamic extremism, as it usually claims, but because it fears an independent Egypt that is not reliant on American support. The US administration will work hard, Chomsky added, to ensure that Egypt’s next president remains faithful to American interests."

Counter-Revolution Implementing Plan to Cause Chaos

"In addition to the international threats against Egypt’s revolution, there are also serious domestic challenges. The bases of Mubarak’s regime are still intact. The ex-ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) remains entrenched across Egypt. Hundreds of thousands of NDP members will do their best to regain power, albeit under a new label. Hundreds of state security officers, who have fled their work places, are now free to cause a great deal of destruction. Tens of thousands of municipal council members, governors, university presidents and deans (appointed by the security apparatus), media figures, heads of companies and fraudulent labor unions, are now conspiring against the revolution.

"What are the objectives of the counter-revolution? Mubarak’s statements to the international press, before he stepped down, are particularly telling.

"'I want to step down but I’m worried about chaos in Egypt... I’m worried that the Muslim Brotherhood might come to power.'

"The counter-revolution is now executing a plan to bring to life Mubarak’s fears in order to show the ex-president was right. This plan includes:

Inciting Chaos, Terrorizing Egyptians, Initiating Planned and Targeted Thuggery

"1. Inciting chaos and terrorizing Egyptians to make them feel insecure. This is intended to make them weary of the revolution and push them to accept half-solutions for the sake of stability. This plan began with the withdrawal of police forces across Egypt and the freeing of 40,000 criminals from prison, who were armed and given instructions to attack civilians. The plan remained in effect during Ahmed Shafiq’s tenure as prime minister. When Essam Sharaf took over, several incidents of vandalism and sectarian tension took place, thereby humiliating the government of the revolution. Despite the great efforts undertaken by the new Interior Minister, Mansur Al-Issawi, the police force remains largely absent. The refusal of the police to protect this nation constitutes treason. Police officers can only abstain from doing their jobs if they are given orders to do so. It’s clear that those instructing police officers not to do their duties have more influence than the Minister of Interior himself.

"Incidents of thuggery in Egypt are not haphazard. They’re mostly planned and targeted. For instance, security personnel in front of the Moqatam polling station did not intervene when reform advocate Mohammad ElBaradei was attacked by NDP supporters on the day of the referendum. In Shubra, during the two days preceding the referendum, thugs were allowed to block roads, terrorize people and fire random shots, leading to several deaths. Not a single police officer or army soldier intervened to protect citizens. Does the fact that many Copts live in Shubra and that Coptic leaders had announced their opposition to the constitutional amendments have anything to do with these attacks? Were the attacks intended to terrorize Copts to force them to accept the amendments or were they meant to punish them for insisting on Egyptians’ right to a new constitution?"

Selective Trials under Media Spotlight to Create a Show of Justice

"2. Holding selective trials, most of which are done under the spotlight of the media. State media (which was also under the control of the state security apparatus) rushed to photograph ex-NDP members Ahmed Ezz, Zoheir Garana, and Ahmed Maghrabi in their prison uniforms, during their investigations. Leaving aside the fact that this went against all professional standards, the purpose was to absorb the anger of Egyptians and convince them that justice was being served. With all due respect to the general prosecutor, there are several unanswered questions in this regard.

"Why hasn't Mubarak or his family members been investigated? Why haven’t ex-NDP leaders Zakaria Azmi, Fathi Sorour and Safwat al-Sherif been put on trial? Why hasn't the general prosecutor investigated the 24 complaints lodged by civil aviation workers against Ahmed Shafiq on charges of wasting public funds? During Ahmed Shafiq’s tenure as prime minister, why did the general prosecutor not order the investigation of any police officers on charges of murdering protesters? After Shafiq was sacked, why did the prosecutor’s office release those officers accused of murder? Won’t their release allow them to conceal evidence that might be used to indict them? What's the point of trying corrupt officials and murderers selectively?"

Limited Constitutional Amendments That Do Not Reflect the Will of the People

"3. Egyptians were not allowed to elect a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution that reflects the will of the people and moves Egypt into an era of democracy. Instead, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces surprisingly adopted Mubarak’s proposal to institute limited constitutional amendments. The process of drafting and approving the amendments was plagued by a series of shortcomings. First, members of the amendments committee were not selected on the basis of any clear criteria. Second, the referendum was held hastily following the announcement of the proposed amendments, making it difficult for people to fully comprehend the issues involved. Third, citizens could only accept or reject the amendments as a package. Fourth, the Muslim Brotherhood and the NDP were united for the first time in approving the amendments. The Brotherhood demonstrated its readiness to change its position depending on its interests. After collecting signatures for months to support ElBaradei’s reform campaign, the Brotherhood turned its back on him and allied itself with the NDP."

The Muslim Brotherhood Polarizes the Egyptians, Undermines National Unity

"The principles of Islam seem to be suspended for the Brotherhood during election season as it's prepared to do anything to gain power. The Brotherhood has accused its opponents of being foreign agents. It has distributed sugar and oil to some voters, terrorized others, and even went so far as labeling some of them apostates. The Brotherhood's strong showing, even if it does not accurately represent their influence across Egypt, is serving the aims of the counter-revolution. On the one hand, the Brotherhood is polarizing Egyptians on the basis of religion. It is undermining the national unity that the revolution has nurtured. On the other hand, the Brotherhood demonstrates to sympathizers of the revolution in the West that Hosni Mubarak was indeed the final bulwark against extremists.

"Those who were frustrated with the media's warm reception of Islamic Jihad leader and killer Abud al-Zumur following his release from prison last week must recognize that his image offers support for the counter-revolution. Al-Zumur, whose long beard is reminiscent of Osama Bin Laden's, announced on television that killing in the name of religion is legitimate. This statement terrified millions of Westerners who sympathized with the Egyptian revolution, but are now ready to accept the return of the old regime in the name of protecting Egypt from extremists."

Proceeding with the Transitional Process So Rapidly Undermines the Interests of Egypt and the Revolution

"Those in favor of the constitutional amendments have won the referendum. My happiness with the great voter turnout and my respect for the voters aside, it is my duty to assert that proceeding with the transition process at such a rapid pace is against the interests of Egypt and the revolution.

"If those in power truly want to support democratic change, our candidate-centered electoral system must be changed. This current system will allow the NDP and Muslim Brotherhood to win most of the seats in an election. That they should be in charge of drafting Egypt’s new constitution is unacceptable. Most legal scholars have argued that a constitution drafted by a parliament that is elected through the existing system will not represent the Egyptian people’s will. Their advice must be taken seriously. Egypt’s great revolution will not become another wasted opportunity. If the transition process takes us backwards, no one will be able stop the Egyptian people, who forced Hosni Mubarak to step down, from achieving their freedom.

"Democracy is the solution."

"What did the Monkey Tell the Lion?"

The Arabic version of this article was published in Al-Masri Al-Yawm.[5] The following are excerpts from an English translation that was posted on Alaa Al-Aswany's blog.[6]

"The jungle was beautiful, with vast expanses of green fertile land and animals living in peace and in plenty until an elephant and a lion managed to seize power there and share control of the jungle. The elephant became king of the jungle, and the lion acted as his faithful guardian. The lion did his job loyally and efficiently. Throughout the night the lion patrolled the areas on the edge of the jungle on high alert: if he caught sight of any predator trying to infiltrate, he pounced on it before it could do harm to the inhabitants of the jungle.

"The lion won the appreciation and respect of the animals, unlike the elephant, who was an unjust corrupt king and established a retinue made up of just two species: the pigs, who stole food from the other animals and were so dirty that their foul stench pervaded the jungle, and the wolves, who terrorized the other animals and mistreated anyone who tried to assert his rights."

The Animals of the Jungle Rebel against the Elephant King

"The wolves killed many innocent animals in cold blood because they objected to what the king was doing. The animals endured the king’s injustices for many years until one day they had had their fill and they rebelled. There was a battle the likes of which the jungle had never seen. The wolves fought fiercely to defend the elephant, while all the other animals plunged headlong into battle with stunning valor, fighting desperately in wave after wave to free the jungle of injustice. The wolves killed dozens of the animals, but the animals were yet more determined to triumph. After two days of bitter fighting the wolves were exhausted and took flight, followed by the pigs. The rebellious animals now surrounded the elephant king on all sides. The king came out and, in a voice trembling with fear, asked the animals, 'What do you want of me?'

"The giraffe replied with fervor, 'We should have killed you in just punishment for the crimes you committed against us, but we will not sully our glorious revolution by spilling your blood. We now want you to leave the jungle so that we never see you again.

"'If I leave the jungle, there’ll be chaos,' said the elephant.

"'It’s you who created chaos with your wickedness and corruption,' said the giraffe, who suddenly started to chant 'Leave, leave.'

"The angry animals throughout the jungle took up the chant: 'Leave, leave.'

"The old elephant then realized that his time was up and he asked the animals to give him an hour to sort out his affairs. The animals agreed but kept their eyes on the elephant because they knew he was perfidious by nature. The elephant took the lion aside behind a tree in the distance, and then the two came back. The elephant raised his trunk and bellowed: 'From now on, the lion will take charge of the jungle instead of me.'

"The animals gave shouts of joy because they loved the lion and had confidence in his bravery and honesty. But the lion roared, saying, 'Thank you, but I cannot rule the jungle and guard it at the same time. I’ll govern for a week or two until you find a new king.'..."

The Elephant Leaves, but the Pigs and Wolves Return to Terrorize the Jungle

"The elephant gave way, flapped his big ears, lowered his trunk and turned away, leaving behind him the jungle whose people he had wronged, plundered and oppressed. The animals followed behind him until he crossed the river, then came back and celebrated their freedom. Every animal expressed its joy in its own way. The gazelles made agile leaps, the monkeys howled and jumped from tree to tree, the zebras careened around and brayed cheerfully, and even the rabbits did somersaults. For many happy days the animals felt they were breathing fresh air for the first time ever. The future, despite the inherent problems, looked bright and promising. Among the animals, opinions differed over who should be king of the jungle. Should it be the old fox, known for his cunning and experience of life, or the brave and kindly giraffe who had led them in the revolution? Although the debate was heated, all the animals were proud to be taking part in choosing the next king. One week later something happened to disturb their tranquility: the foul stench of pigs reappeared throughout the jungle. The animals were greatly upset and rushed to the lion to seek his help.

"'Great lion, we can smell the foul stench of pigs. That means they have come back to prowl around at night, and they will steal our food,' they said.

"The lion looked at them enigmatically and said calmly, 'Don’t worry, I’ll do the necessary.'

"The animals went off yet more worried, and the next day the smell of pigs was even stronger, suggesting the pigs had come back to the jungle in large numbers. Before the inhabitants had time to adjust to this surprise, they were stunned by another piece of news. Wolves had attacked the jungle overnight and wreaked havoc. They had devoured a large number of rabbits and killed a zebra that tried to stand in their way. They also attacked a beautiful young gazelle, which later died of its injuries. The animals rushed to the lion to appeal for help. The lion gave them the same enigmatic look and said, 'Please go away and I’ll do the necessary.'

"Gently and politely, the giraffe replied, 'But you told us that before, great lion. Why didn’t you stop the wolves coming into the jungle? Why didn’t you defend us at night, as you used to do?'

"The lion roared irritably and shouted at them ominously, 'Don’t you understand? I told you I’d do the necessary. Go away.'"

The Animals Test the Lion's Loyalties

"The animals went away distressed. In his husky voice the zebra said, 'What use is our revolution if we can smell the pigs again and the wolves attack and kill us? Everything’s gone back to how it was in the time of the elephant.'

"The giraffe muttered sadly, 'I don’t understand what’s happening. The lion can easily wipe out the pigs and the wolves. Why does he let them into the jungle?'

"The fox smiled and said bitterly, 'Folks, it looks like we’ve been tricked. We were naïve to believe that the lion would take our side against the wicked elephant.'

"An old monkey cried out, 'Don’t exaggerate, fox. The lion stood with us and helped us expel the elephant...'

"The giraffe craned its neck and said, 'Yes, indeed. The lion is bound by the principles of honor and has taken the side of justice.'

"The fox smiled, panted excitedly and said, 'There’s no doubt he’s honorable, but he is the elephant’s best friend.'

"There was a deep silence, interrupted by the fox. 'Listen, folks. I have an idea to find out the truth.'

"The animals looked at him with interest and he continued. 'If the lion is meeting the deposed elephant, he must go to see him at night. We can send someone to track him and find out what’s happening.'

"There were murmurs of approval and a young monkey spoke up with enthusiasm. 'Fox, please assign the job to me. I’ll monitor the lion at night.'

"The fox looked at him warily and said, 'Monkey, you’re right for the job because you’re smart and nimble but, frankly, I’m worried you’re too reckless. You often act without thinking of the consequences.'

"The monkey jumped in the air twice and made a whistling noise. 'Fox, give me this chance,' he said. 'I promise I’ll act wisely.'

"That night the monkey perched on the branch of a tall tree on the edge of the jungle and watched the lion as he patrolled on his usual rounds. He was mortified when he saw two pigs and a wolf coming into the jungle in full view of the lion, who watched them without lifting a finger. The monkey stayed up the tree and saw the lion moving out of the jungle. The monkey then jumped nimbly from tree to tree, keeping the lion in his sight. In the end the monkey saw the lion meeting the elephant, who seemed to be waiting for him. The monkey pricked up his ears and heard the whole conversation between the lion and the elephant."

Lion: "I'm With You, But Also with the Elephant"

"The next day the animals went to complain to the lion again, saying the foul stench of the pigs was now unbearable and the wolves had started to raid the jungle every night. The lion yawned and said calmly, 'I’ll look into the matter.'

"At that point the monkey interjected, 'Mr. Fox [sic, should be Lion], you’re not going to do anything to stop the pigs and the wolves.'

"The lion looked at the monkey inquisitively, gave a terrifying roar and said, 'How dare you speak to me that way, you monkey?'

"There was a deep silence. The monkey jumped around excitedly as usual and then said, 'Lion, I saw you meeting the elephant and I overheard your conversation.'

"The lion looked greatly surprised and his temples twitched tensely. 'Are you now so insolent as to track my movements, you monkey?' he said.

"'Forgive me, Mr. Lion, it came about by accident,' the monkey replied.

"The lion roared and said, 'What do you want now? Speak.'

"'May I ask you why you persist in meeting the elephant after all the crimes he committed against us?' the monkey replied.

"'The elephant’s my friend and my mentor, and I’m much indebted to him,' the lion said.

"'Are you on the elephant’s side or ours?' the fox asked calmly.

"'Of course I’m with you, but also with the elephant,' said the lion.

"'You can’t be with the oppressor and the oppressed at the same time,' shouted the giraffe."

The Monkey Gives the Lion an Ultimatum

"The animals were shocked and fell silent, but then the monkey spoke up bravely. 'Lion, we animals love and respect you and we’ve known you to be upright and honorable. But if your loyalty to your friend the elephant is incompatible with justice, you have to stand on the side of justice. That’s what we always expect of you. We don’t wish the elephant ill. All we want is to live our lives in freedom. Dozens of our fellow animals sacrificed their lives in the revolution to put an end to injustice. Great lion, since you love this jungle so much and have fought to defend it, we implore you to stand on the side of justice. We won’t leave until you promise to protect us from the pigs and the wolves.'

"The animals applauded what the monkey said and the lion seemed to be thinking. Then he roared loudly before announcing his final decision."




[4] The English version, in obvious error, reads King Farouq, rather than King Fuad, Farouq's father; the original Arabic version, however, correctly reads King Fuad.

[5] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), March 29, 2011.

[6] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), March 29, 2011. An English translation was posted on Al-Aswany's blog:

Share this Report: