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Book review: Ahram editor shares his insider knowledge of SCAF's rule

Former chief editor of Al-Ahram newspaper recounts many interesting incidents in his book, including a time he received an 'Eid gift' of LE25,000 from General Tantawi

Mahmoud El-Wardani, Wednesday 3 Apr 2013
Stray Revolution by Abdel-Azeem Hammad
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Al-Thawra Al-Taaha (The Stray Revolution) by Abdel-Azeem Hammad, Cairo: Al-Mahrousa Center, 2013. 194pp.

Since President Morsi took office last year, political events have moved very fast. The year and a half that preceded Morsi's handover, when the generals of the SCAF were in power, was one of confusion, mistakes and disastrous missteps.

For this reason, the testimony by Abdel-Azeem Hammad, chief editor of Al-Ahram daily newspaper from September 2011 to February 2012 is very important, since it was not tarnished by the sequence of events that have happened since Morsi took over power and so was never analysed in that context.

In addition, Hammad's testimony is of great importance, since his presence as head of the largest public newspaper not only allowed him to be close to events, but also to participate in various ways. His testimony is personal, relating what he himself saw, not what he was told by others, and that is what makes it valuable.

The author mentions in the introduction that two publishers refused to publish the book, one of them openly explaining that he was afraid of the Brotherhood and their new allies among the generals, and recalling the dismissal of Chief Editor of Al-Gomhoreya newspaper, the second largest public daily, after his paper published unconfirmed news about a potential trial of the retired SCAF members.

The first chapter, entitled 'Straying: Symptoms and Reasons', describes how the revolution escaped from its makers, whom the author calls "the new powers", naming movements such as April 6 Youth Movement, Kefaya, trade unions and others. He argues that authorities achieved their destiny through the SCAF, the Muslim Brotherhood and the external foreign powers that now have a say in the internal Egyptian matters.

Hammad describes the pressure from the generals to use the Al-Ahram media organisation as their means to push their agenda, even if the facts were not accurate, and even if it stood against the credibility and unbiased role of the newspaper.

Most importantly was the 'Eid gift', when Hammad was shocked to receive an army officer in his office at Al-Ahram, with an envelope containing LE25,000 and a greeting card signed by General Tantawi, just before the Eid religious festival.

The same thing apparently happened with the chairman of the organisation at the time, Labib El-Sebai. Since efforts to return this money failed, considering it a 'personal insult to the general' if such thing were to happen, they gave the money to the charity organisation We Owe Egypt.

On the Brotherhood's rise to power, the author describes the poor management of the transition period by the SCAF, playing the main role in enabling this end goal, starting with the infamous referendum on the constitutional amendments in March 2011, despite the continuous promises by the generals of the SCAF that the state will always be 'civil', and that a condition of 'national security' would be never allowing Egypt to become another Iran or Gaza.

The military council had never hidden its hatred for most presidential candidates, including Mohamed ElBaradei, Amr Moussa or Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh. General El-Mullah articulated the feeling in a conversation with Hammad, telling him that liberals would never agree because each of them loves himself and none loves Egypt.

Hammad also witnessed a conversation between El-Beltagi, the leader at the Brotherhood, and General El-Sisi, who was head of army intelligence at the time, where the latter said: "Don't threaten us; you want power and will take it, but be patient with us."

As it appears, the SCAF was fully ready, from a military standpoint, to crush any revolt, according to a plan that had been practiced a number of times since the bread riots of 1977 or the Central Security Forces rebellion in 1986. But they had never had a political plan. When power landed in their hands, all the events surprised them, starting with the public demands to put Mubarak on trial.

They hesitated between continuing with revolutionary demands and the revolution mindset, or simply pausing and going back to the pre-Mubarak agenda, but just without the inheritance project. They also hesitated between the pressures from the Brotherhood, from the Salafists, and the civil powers.

Finally, the fact that the USA allowed the Brotherhood to take over power in Egypt is in full consistency with the main players here, the USA and the SCAF, not in the sense that there was a set deal, but rather that there is a clear understanding in relation to the American and Israeli interests. This was clear from the first clashes between Gaza and Israel, when Morsi quickly intervened and bound Hamas not to attack Israel.

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