Egyptian political activist who co-founded Egyptian initiatives for democracy, including the April 6 Youth Movement and the Egyptian Democratic Academy, even before the January revolution that deposed former president Hosni Mubarak. Yesterday, Human Rights First honored Basem Fathy at its Human Rights Awards dinner.
founder and general coordinator of the April 6 Youth Movement, which helped organize protests in Egypt that eventually toppled the Hosni Mubarak regime.
A pair of Egyptian police officers were sentenced Wednesday to eight years in prison for the beating death of 28-year-old man. The 2010 killing of Khaled Said helped to spark the Egyptian revolution that ultimately toppled the regime of Hosni Mubarak. The officers were both charged with manslaughter. Members of Said’s family and pro-democracy protesters argued the sentence was too light. Two Egyptian youth leaders, Ahmed Maher and Basem Fathy, join us in studio to talk about Egypt after the fall of Mubarak, as well as the growing protests they have witnessed in the United States. "Regarding the Occupy movement, ... we are, in April 6 movement, and the activists in Egypt, standing for very clear values: social justice and democracy and justice in general," says Fathy. "So we’re going to support this everywhere. And let’s say, frankly, that we’re happy for finding the people trying to correct the pathway of democracy even in the United States." [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We turn from Occupy Wall Street and so many other cities in the United States—Occupy Oakland, Occupy San Francisco—we turn to Egypt. Yesterday, two policemen, who beat a man to death in a case that led to Egyptians rising up in mass protest, were convicted of lesser charge of manslaughter. The relatively light sentence and secretive nature of the trial disappointed pro-democracy activists, who hoped their uprising had wiped out the corruption and injustice symbolized by the case.
The slain man was 28 years old. His name was Khaled Said. He was dragged out of an internet café in Alexandria by police on June 6 of 2010, according to witnesses, brutally beaten to death on the street. Photos of Khaled Said’s battered face, shattered jaw and bruised body then went viral online, galvanizing people to campaign against widespread intimidation and killings by police under Mubarak. A Facebook page called "We are All Khaled Said" helped organize thousands to protest police brutality and impunity. It was the administrators of that page who called for a day of protest against the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak January 25th. That protest turned into an 18-day popular uprising that helped topple Mubarak’s regime.
After Wednesday’s verdict was announced, Khaled Said’s uncle, Ali Kassem, told the Associated Press, "This case was like taking the pulse of the revolution, but the verdict tells us [that] the revolution has been aborted... This is a signal on which direction the revolution is heading," he said.
Well, for more on the verdict and much more on the developments in Egypt, we’re joined by two prominent Egyptian activists, Ahmed Maher and Basem Fathy, founders of the April 6 Youth Movement, which is the group credited with organizing the January 25th protests that eventually deposed Mubarak. Ahmed Maher recently visited Occupy Wall Street, where he and other Egyptian activists held a teach-in. And yesterday, Human Rights First honored Basem Fathy at its awards dinner for his tireless work as an advocate for political freedom in Egypt, braving multiple detentions by the Mubarak regime.
Ahmed Maher and Basem Fathy, welcome, both, to Democracy Now!
BASEM FATHY: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: First, Ahmed, I mean, you’re here as this verdict is announced in Egypt, but talk about your response and the significance of Khaled Said.
AHMED MAHER: Khaled Said, I think it’s a very important step to create the anger of Egyptians and make many Egyptians involved in politics and be aware about what happened from the police to Egyptian people. So, it’s a very important step, and then created the movement against Mubarak and pro-democracy. So, what happened in July 2010 was a very important situation, leading for what happened in November 2010, then leading for what happened in 25th of January.
AMY GOODMAN: Khaled Said, those images that went viral online, he was in Alexandria. He had gone to post pictures in the internet cafe of the security police who beat him to death later?
AHMED MAHER: That’s true, because what happened was, Khaled Said, because Khaled Said is not politician and not activist, he is like any guy in Egypt, so it was a very emotional case that increased the anger inside Egyptian community. And there is many groups and many young people support the page of "We are All Khaled Said," because he is not politician and killed by the police. And there is many days—every day we have something like that in Egypt, and no one talk about that.
AMY GOODMAN: Basem Fathy, your response to what took place yesterday, to this verdict, and what it signifies? Do you agree with Khaled Said’s uncle, saying this means that the Egyptian revolution has been aborted?
BASEM FATHY: Actually, when I saw the verdict, I thought about only one thing, that if we are under Mubarak, the two policemen who killed Khaled Said might be totally cleared and, I mean, just being—saying that they are great and spotless and got nothing, and might got an award even. But we were—we were actually expecting for getting a very strong sentence against them, not to be sentenced for seven years. So, I mean, from my point of view, this reflects the case we are in Egypt now. We are in an amorphous situation, in the middle of two things, in the middle of our dreams and aspiration that we got after the uprising in January and February and the bad situation that we were under Mubarak. This is exactly the case: it’s something in the middle. Of course, our aspirations is getting a very strong sentence against them, but I believe if they were under Mubarak, nothing would happen.
AMY GOODMAN: Thousands of people who participated in the Tahrir uprising are being tried now, right? The number is quite astounding. Is it something like 12,000 people?
BASEM FATHY: Twelve thousand, in general, are in the military presence. Hundreds of them, of course, are totally innocent, and they were just some activists or protesters here and there.
AMY GOODMAN: And they are facing longer jail time—a number have been sentenced—than these two soldiers?
BASEM FATHY: Three to five years.
AMY GOODMAN: These two security guards, security operatives?
BASEM FATHY: Yeah, three to five years. This is very important. It seemed like it’s intimidating for the activists. Before we were—we got detained many time. But I mean, we knew that we were going to have like two weeks or one month or even six months. But now, at least, anybody that were abducted by the military court, having three to five years.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain your detentions under Mubarak. Why were you detained, and when?
BASEM FATHY: First, I got detained, me and Ahmed, in 2008, in July. We just were protesting in Alexandria, by the way.
AHMED MAHER: Singing.
BASEM FATHY: Yes, we were singing somewhere. We tried to make a public event of singing and getting the people to celebrate—
AMY GOODMAN: What were you singing?
AHMED MAHER: Some national songs, against corrupt regime, old Egyptian songs. And tried to take—make attention to the people to join us and talk with us about what we want. And there is many people tried to know about who we are and what we want, but the police attack us immediately and arrest many people from our movement.
BASEM FATHY: So this was the first time. Then, I’ve been arrested twice again. Once this was when there was a governmental orchestrated attack against the Al-Ghad party, one of the opposition party. And it got burned by the thugs of—affiliated with the government. And the third time for me, it was when there was a massacre against the Christian Copts in Nag Hammadi, south of Egypt. And I’ve been there with many bloggers trying to pay condolences, and we got arrested again. These are my three times. And many—actually, many young people in Egypt got arrested more than that.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, you can be involved in social change but never know when the moment will come. When I went down to Occupy Wall Street the other day, Ahmed, you were there, and so was Asmaa Mahfouz, also with the April 6 Movement. I wanted to go back to the video that we played back in January. It was the recording that Asmaa made that was posted to Facebook January 18th, before the Egyptian uprising, that went viral across Egypt and the world. This is just a clip of, well, now 26-year-old Asmaa Mahfouz. Her head is covered, but not her face, and she identifies herself.
ASMAA MAHFOUZ: [translated] I posted that I, a girl, am going down to Tahrir Square, and I will stand alone. And I’ll hold up a banner. Perhaps people will show some honor. I even wrote my number so maybe people will come down with me. No one came except three guys—three guys and three armored cars of riot police. And tens of hired thugs and officers came to terrorize us. They shoved us roughly away from the people. But as soon as we were alone with them, they started to talk to us. They said, "Enough! These guys who burned themselves were psychopaths." Of course, on all national media, whoever dies in protest is a psychopath. If they were psychopaths, why did they burn themselves at the parliament building?
I’m making this video to give you one simple message: we want to go down to Tahrir Square on January 25th. If we still have honor and want to live in dignity on this land, we have to go down on January 25th. We’ll go down and demand our rights, our fundamental human rights.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Asmaa Mahfouz. Let me ask you both. She posted that on January 18th. Did you know she was posting it? And did you know the response would be so great? As in many of the actions you had taken before, why this moment? Basem? Ahmed?
AHMED MAHER: Why this moment? Because this moment, we are working from 2005 to get more involvement from the people to politics in Egypt and the movement, whole movement, in Egypt, and also to grow the hope in the people, because we need change, and there is a moment we will change Egypt. So, after that, the people were ready for change, but don’t know when they can change. And at that moment, because many things, after corrupted parliament elections, after killed of Khaled Said, after exclusion of church in Alexandria, after many torture to the people from the police, and then what happened in Tunisia, that make the people so proud and want to do the same, like what happened in Tunisia. So there is many sparks lead to what happened 25th of January.
BASEM FATHY: However, on—
AMY GOODMAN: Basem Fathy?
BASEM FATHY: On the night of—on the eve of the revolution on the 25th—I mean, on the 24th, nobody actually expected that we were going to have it that quickly. Actually, we were—after what happened in Tunisia, the people in Egypt started to be ready and active that we were going to have a dramatic change. But not that quick. What happened, that on 24th, we were planning for having a protest, a small protest, and get beaten by the security, then going back home again, like every time. This time, we just went to the street, to find—I mean, many ordinary and simple Egyptians are joining us in starting everything happen.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the Supreme Council of Armed Forces singling out the April 6 Movement, your movement? In mid-July, the Supreme Council saying your movement is driving a wedge between the army and the people, and then Asmaa Mahfouz was arrested for two tweets. Ahmed?
AHMED MAHER: Because we are—didn’t reform a political party, and we—at that time, we insisting on staying in Tahrir Square until real change in the regime and the government. So we thought—we found that the military council make a statement against April 6, that we are causing trouble between the people and the army, and we’re taking foreign funding, and have a training in Serbia, and that—all that rumors. And they tried to—
AMY GOODMAN: Did you train in Serbia?
AHMED MAHER: Not training, but to build our movement, we must to get experience from many movements. Like what happen now on Wall Street, they asked us about the organization and the structure—
AMY GOODMAN: What happened right here on Wall Street.
AHMED MAHER: Yes, they asked us. And also, there’s many people in Syria and Yemen, asked us about our organization and nonviolent strategy. So we asked the guys in Serbia about structure and their experience. It’s not training by weapons, like they show many photos with weapons and said that is in Serbia. And it’s not true. So they try to cause trouble to April 6, and they don’t like April 6, because we are—they consider us as troublemakers to them. And they want to reform a new regime. They can’t control it. And April 6 will annoy them. So they are spreading rumors about April 6. And now we haven’t any contact with them, like before.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think the Supreme Council has stolen the revolution? I mean, what about the upcoming elections? Now, the presidential elections—I mean, after the fall of Tahrir, you were talking about September. Now we’re talking about not 2012, but 2013. Basem?
BASEM FATHY: It’s very confusing. Many people say—asking whether the SCAF is confused, because they don’t have the experience—
AMY GOODMAN: SCAF is the Supreme Council.
BASEM FATHY: The Supreme Council for Armed Forces—because they are—don’t have the experience or because they are sinisters. So the people—they are trying to stole the revolution, but yet it won’t be easy, because, I mean, millions of Egyptians got engaged. And this is the most important, the engagement of the people. However, the people now are not very happy with the case, especially the activists, because, seemingly, what’s going on in Egypt now do not meet the dreams of the people.
AMY GOODMAN: You’ve come here to Wall Street. What have you found? The Occupy movement—you were at Occupy—you were in Occupy New York, Occupy Wall Street—
AHMED MAHER: And D.C.
BASEM FATHY: D.C., yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —and D.C., as well. And you met with hundreds of Egyptian Americans in Washington, D.C. So talk about the Occupy movement and your Arab-American meetings that have been taking place, what you’re trying to accomplish, Ahmed.
AHMED MAHER: At the first—the first Saturday, I was invited by Arab American and Arab—and Egyptian American to many conference in D.C. And I met with two places, with Occupy D.C., and they asked about our organization and our structure and our behavior and our tactics. And we gave them our experience. Also, that happened also in New York, and we participated in a march on the day before yesterday. And also, yesterday we have a seminar and discussion to talk about structure and groups and how to organize groups and how to attract more people to the sit-in or demonstrations and how to use nonviolence.
AMY GOODMAN: And what are your answers to these questions?
AHMED MAHER: I talked about our structure in the movement, and—
AMY GOODMAN: What was your structure in the April 6 movement?
AHMED MAHER: Our structure is something between centralized and decentralized, like groups decentralized, but there is a main group have a connection with those groups. And also, over all Egypt, there is many youth groups, but they link to each other like a network of groups, of youth movements. So, it’s our structure. And in Occupy Wall Street, they haven’t a real movement and haven’t real structure. They have open discussion every day.
AMY GOODMAN: The general assembly—
AHMED MAHER: I think, from my point of view—
AMY GOODMAN: —which operates by consensus.
AHMED MAHER: —it’s very hard to have any discussion—very hard to have any discussion or any core—
BASEM FATHY: Decisions.
AHMED MAHER: —decisions, because it’s open session every day. So they must to join groups and reform groups and to have a connection with them. And I think they need to clarify a vision and tactics first.
AMY GOODMAN: And your observations, Basem, as you were here, and also what you spoke with Egyptian Americans about in New York—in Washington, D.C., right near the Pentagon, in Crystal City?
BASEM FATHY: Regarding the Egyptian Americans, we just want to—the organizers here tried to make the Egyptian American close to what’s going on in Egypt, to their homeland. Of course, the American Egyptians here are very strong support for democracy in Egypt, if they want to support, whether financially or, I mean, by advocacy and lobbying here. So, I mean, this was the main purpose of the conference.
And regarding Occupy movement, whether here or in D.C., we are, in April 6 movement, and the activists in Egypt, standing for very clear values: social justice and democracy and justice in general. So, I mean, we’re going to support this everywhere. And let’s say, frankly, that we’re happy for finding the people trying to correct the pathway of democracy even in the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you thinking, Ahmed, of turning the April 6 movement into a political party?
AHMED MAHER: There is many question about that, from the beginning, after the revolution. But we’re thinking about that and decide to postpone this move, this step, because now the revolution didn’t finish yet, so we must to keep struggle and keep fighting until we have a real democracy and a real country and a good regime and social justice. So, we think that will take more than five years in transition period, so we must keep fighting now, and didn’t look to our interests or political party or parliament elections or candidates. That’s our goal now, to finish or complete our revolution. Then we can think about political party.
AMY GOODMAN: And Basem Fathy, your group now is called...? Your organization now?
BASEM FATHY: I’m working with many, actually. I’m not affiliated to any. I work with April 6 for a long time, and I’m still close now. And I thought a lot about making April 6 as a political party, but really now we still need such network. On the beginning of the revolution, I was advocating for it is the time—it is a time for stop social movement and start to initiate our political parties. But seemingly now, we still need to be there in this form.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Ahmed, as you saw the beginning of our broadcast, when you saw the young man on the ground who was shot—I mean, you dealt with many deaths. What were the casualties during the revolution? He is still alive. Scott was a Marine corporal, survived two—went to Iraq twice, came back, and was shot in the head by a police projectile. We’re not exactly sure what.
AHMED MAHER: It’s like what happened in Egypt. I saw many pictures about that, and feel the same, like Egypt. So I think it’s a big mistake to shoot the people and use tear gas, because it will increase the angry against the government here, and it will increase and make the movements in the United States very strong. I think it’s a big mistake to do that.
AMY GOODMAN: And Basem?
BASEM FATHY: I liked, actually, a quotation you got from my speech yesterday with Human Rights First. Who knows that the police brutality will be a good strategy for recruiting? Yes, the brutality of the police, it is a very good strategy for recruitment for the movement. And I believe many people will support the movement after such a brutality.
AHMED MAHER: And we also support the movement in Occupy in D.C. or New York and Oakland. So we will support that.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us. Ahmed Maher is founder and general coordinator of April 6 Youth Movement. Basem Fathy closely worked with April 6 Movement and also a number of different groups in Egypt. They both return to Egypt now.