Monday, July 1, 2013

Military Plans Return to Power on Egypt's Date with Destiny

June 30th, 2013, marks a historic date in Egypt for many reasons.  It is the culmination of months of organizing by the Tamarod "rebel" campaign which aims to unseat the Muslim Brotherhood from power and organize another round of democratic elections in Egypt.  Tamarod collected 22 million signatures for its petition campaign to remove Morsi from power.  The signatures and the protests represented a cross-section of Egyptian society, including members of various social and economic classes and also both Muslims and Christians.

On June 30, 2013, massive crowds of demonstrators flooded Tahrir Square in Cairo to demand immediate regime change.  The BBC and the Interior Ministry both reported the crowd size at 17 million, an extraordinarily high number which represents nearly one fourth of Egypt's 83 million people.  Feeling cornered and blind-sided by the scale of the protests against him, Morsi suddenly announced his willingness for "dialogue".  The Morsi regime is revealing its desperation and weakness by making a last-minute offer to engage in "dialogue."

Unfortunately, the military is already planning to return to power with the consent of the Tamarod movement.  On Monday, the Armed Forces announced that it will intervene in Egyptian politics if the conflict between the various political parties is not resolved within 48 hours.  Thus, the military has already declared that it will return to power by Wednesday in the event the political stand-off continues.  Many opposition leaders praised the military's decision to intervene in Egyptian politics.  Tamarod campaign spokesperson Mai Wahba described the army approvingly as "the pole that's keeping the tent up." Free Egyptians Party spokesperson Shaheb Wageeh called the statement "reassuring."  Al Dostour Party member Ahmed al Hawary believed the statement indicated the armed forces are intervening on the side of the people.

The Tamarod spokesperson Mahmoud Badr said,"The army responding to the demands of the people crowns our movement."  The crowd at Tahrir Square already erupted in celebration at the news that the military is returning to power.  Thus, the goal of the Tamarod movement is not to restore democracy but to remove the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) through a military coup.  The goal of removing the MB is laudable, but the methodology chosen is highly flawed and likely to be fatal to the cause of Egyptian democracy.  By inviting the military back to power, the opposition has already aborted the democratic process.  The opposition may also have unwittingly paved the way for a long-term military rule which could last for several years and involve even more brutal human rights abuses than the last bout of military rule from February, 2011, to June, 2012.   Egypt is in store for the military to expand its policy of subjecting political dissident civilians like Maikel Nabil to military tribunals.  So the number of civilians subjected to military tribunals may  be even more than 12,000 this time around.  

In a related worrying development, the Military Academy is beginning to admit students from MB families, including Morsi's nephew.  This process will further cement the MB's control over the military which was greatly strengthened by Morsi's decision to fire the top generals from the Mubarak era in August, 2012.  In addition, the new policy in a sense crowns a successful long-term strategy by the MB to infiltrate the military at all levels over many decades.  

Returning the military to power means that exiled political democratic dissidents such as Maikel Nabil and his followers cannot return home to resume their participation in the political process in Egypt.  Atheists such as Mr. Nabil, Kareem Amer, and Alber Saber will have to remain in exile for their own safety along with feminist activists such as Sahar Mahar El Issawi.  Women will face the risk of additional sexual assaults and "virginity checks" which attempt to suppress and intimidate female political activists.

In addition, moderate Muslims will be forced to remain silent for fear of being targeted by the military which is increasingly aligned with the MB.  And the Coptic Christian minority will remain in danger of ongoing massacres, suppression and religious persecution. Omar, a Muslim shopkeeper quoted by Deroy Murdock in Egypt on the Brink, an opinion article in the New York Post on June 29, 2013, page 17, dreams of Muslim-Christian coexistence.  He asks,"What about our Christian brothers and friends? They have the right to live in this country.  Christians and Muslims are woven together, here, like this piece of fabric, (tugging at his shirt).  They are Egyptian citizens."  Sadly, the military's return to power will abort such dreams of Muslim-Christian coexistence based on respect for the rights of the Coptic Christian minority.

The underlying cause of the protests remains economic discontent.  The economic situation in Egypt is catastrophic with a 25% unemployment rate.  Murdock noted that foreign exchange reserves fell by more than 50% from $36 billion in December 2010 to $16 billion in May 2013. The Egyptian pound fell in buying power by 27% from 5.5 to the USD when Mubarak fell to 7 today.

Muhammad, who works in the tourism industry, is now underemployed.  His employment has fallen from 4 days a week to 4 days a  month.  He added,"My best year was 2010.  I was saving money to buy a house.  Now I have lost one third of my savings.  My dreams have been crushed."  Muhammad's economic situation has grown so desperate that he would welcome the return of the Mubarak regime.  The opposition will not last long in power if it does not address the concrete economic concerns of ordinary Egyptians like Muhammad.

Any  new government which fails to deal with the economy is bound to lose power rapidly.  Hazem el Beblawy, a former Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister under the military regime, says that economic subsidies for the poor represent 25% of the budget directly and contribute to borrowing costs that cost another 25% of the budget.  Thus, the direct and indirect cost of subsidies is 50% of the budget.  Such levels of subsidies are clearly unsustainable in the long term.

However, no regime had the moral and popular legitimacy to take the difficult decision to reduce the subsidies.  Part of the problem is no regime has ever placed a meaningful priority on economic development that would benefit.all classes of society rather than a small class of well-connected, wealthy businessmen.  The Sadat regime reduced subsidies on "luxury" goods including butane gas, granulated sugar, beer, fine flour and macaroni.  The public rapidly rioted against the cuts in subsidies, resulting in 80 deaths and 800 injuries (Harry Ades, A Traveler's History of Egypt, 2007, pp. 352-353).  The regime had to call in the army to restore order for the first time since 1952, and the Sadat regime rapidly cancelled the subsidy cuts.  Since then, all subsequent regimes have been afraid to end the subsidies for fear of triggering public riots.

In addition, the systematic sexual assaults on female protestors during the recent demonstrations are highly worrying.  The I Saw Harassment initiative reported 51 sexual assaults between Friday and Sunday.  Operation anti-Sexual Harassment, reported 46 sexual assaults on Sunday at Tahrir Square alone.  The Free Egyptians Party warned against 'terrorizing' women.  Thus, the MB is unleashing a systematic campaign of sexual assaults to suppress female participation in the anti-regime demonstrations, a pattern that can only be expected to continue under the return of military rule.  The number of sexual assaults against female protestors over the weekend is more than double the number of the 24 cases reported during the protests on  January 25, 2013, which marked the second anniversary of the movement that ultimately overthrew the Mubarak regime. In addition, the vast majority of sexual assaults undoubtedly go unreported in a country which tends to blame the female victim for rape and in which the police are likely to further assault and terrorize victims of rape and sexual assault.

We should also remember the people who gave their lives in these protests.  16 people were killed, including  nine at the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters, 3 in Assiyut, and one each in Beni Suef, Fayoum, Alexandria, and Kafr al Sheikh.  The three demonstrators killed in Assiyut were Mohamed Nassef Shaker, Abanob Adel, and Mohamed Abdel Hamid.   Salah Eddin Hassan, a journalist in Port Said, was killed last week in a bomb blast while covering anti-regime protests.  He leaves behind a wife, Rasha Fahmy, and two small sons, Mohamed, 4, and Omar, 3.  His widow said,"“I hold Morsy responsible for the death of my husband. He and his group are responsible for his death. I feel pain when my two sons, Mohamed, 4, and Omar, 3, ask me where their father is.”  His bereaved mother, Ayda Mohamed Sobh, added,"He is my only son through whose eyes I see everything."  If the military returns to power, then the struggle to remove Morsi and the deaths of these protestors and this journalist will have been in vain. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Challenging the Long Night of Russian Authoritarianism

This blog entry was originally published in late November, 2012.

This article is dedicated to the memory of my beloved teacher, Russian democratic politician Galina Starovoitova.  Galina was a close friend of mine.  We freely debated many complex political issues, including the illegal Russian invasion of Chechnya in 1994, her desire to seek Western funding for Russian political parties, and the need for a social safety net to protect poor Russians who were negatively affected by the transition to capitalism.  She told me about her Orthodox Jewish former mother-in-law and her affection for Israel and the Jews.  We also discussed my career plans and her difficult struggle to balance work and family.  I was devastated by the news that Putin murdered her brazenly in broad daylight in her apartment in November, 1998.   I also read the inspiring Russian-language memorial book about Galina that was published in 2003.  This wonderful work contained the experiences of her followers and documented her ongoing political impact in Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Lithuania, and Israel.  

When Russia launched the first post-Communist invasion of Chechnya in December, 1994, I knew without a doubt that this tragic event marked the beginning of the end for Russian democracy.  As it turned out, Russian democracy limped along unsuccessfully for another 5  years until a drunken President Yeltsin decided to turn the keys to the kingdom over to his KGB/FSB buddy – the infamous Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.  In my opinion, one major reason for the total collapse of Russia’s longest experiment with democracy was that many Russian democratic elite politicians failed to address the economic concerns of the common person.  Russian democratic elites were largely indifferent toward the financial struggles of starving elderly pensioners because they did not think the everyday problems of average citizens were their issues.  So while Russian democrats were busily debating irrelevant legal points, tens of millions of Russians watched their savings evaporate and saw the prices of basic foodstuffs skyrocket overnight.  

Since the 1990’s, Russian politics has continued an even further slide away from even the most basic principles of human decency.  For instance, Russian democrats protested heavily against the first post-Communist invasion of Chechnya and managed to end the Russian occupation of Chechnya at least temporarily for a few years from 1996 to 1999.  This war cost 100,000 Chechen lives and represented a return of Stalin’s genocidal aggression against Chechnya in 1944.  But it was ended for a few short years. 

I believe that the bombings of the apartment blocks in 1999 which killed nearly 300 Russian civilians in Moscow, Volgodonsk, and Buynaksk were an FSB conspiracy to justify a prior Russian plan to re-invade Chechnya.   My reason is that several prominent Russian democrats and advocates of this theory, such as the journalist Anna Politkovskaya, the FSB dissident Alexander Litvinenko, and State Duma member Yuri Shchekochikhin, were brutally murdered by Putin.  I also hold Putin and the FSB responsible for the murders of Galina Starovoitova, lawyer Stanslav Markelov, journalist and human rights activist Natalia Estemirova, Russian-American journalist Paul Klebnikov, liberal politician Yuri Yushenkov, economist Andrei Kozlov, and ethnologist Nikolai Girenko. In addition I blame Putin and the FSB for the attempted assassinations of Ukrainian democratic politician Viktor Yushchenko and KGB dissident Oleg Gordievsky.  Putin is responsible for the prior imprisonment of FSB dissident Mikhail Trepashkin and the ongoing illegal captivity of Mikhail Khordokovsky. These atrocities are documented here.  

In addition, I am alarmed to read that Putin’s assassins were likely responsible for the deaths of at least two of his Western critics, Paul Joyal and David McGrory. The murder of Joyal is discussed in greater detail here. .  Putin is acting brazenly in murdering his Western opponents on Western soil with impunity because he knows that his brutality will go unchallenged both in the West and in Russia.  In addition, Western scholars in Russian studies now have two important reasons for remaining silent about Putin’s crimes against humanity: the desire to retain access to Russia for their research and fear for their personal safety if they dare to publicly challenge Putin’s regime.  

Taking advantage of the catastrophic Chechen decision to impose shariah law upon their people and other missteps of the Chechen leadership, Putin re-invaded Chechnya in 1999. His ostensible reason for invading Chechnya was to battle “terrorists, but flattening Grozny and murdering old men, pregnant women, and infants are not typical tactics for fighting terrorism.  Putin’s main targets seemed to be defenseless Chechen civilians and hapless Russian conscripts who were beaten to death by their drunken commanders.  

During the second post-Communist Russian invasion of Chechnya time, Russian democrats hesitated to unequivocally challenge Putin.  And this time, the Russian occupation of Chechnya has lasted longer and cost more suffering for Chechnya and Russia alike.  I personally think that Chechnya has the right to independence from Russian control and occupation if the Chechen people freely decide upon such a destiny.  Tragically, the Chechen people are no longer in control over their own destiny, as they are at the tender mercies of Putin and the FSB.  

Despite his endless catalogue of atrocities, Putin remains unpopular in Russia.  According to the Public Opinion Foundation, in 2003 his popularity fell to 49%. .  In August, 2011, according to the well-respected  Russian polling firm Levada, 54% of Russians disapproved of his regime, and 64% opposed his United Russia party. .  Thus, Putin remains in power through a combination of brazenly stuffing the ballot box and systematically imprisoning and murdering his political opponents. 

Unfortunately, the 2003 polls also revealed that the Russian people consider Russian democratic politicians to be irrelevant.  Grigory Yavlinsky, co-founder of Democratic Russia party alongside Galina Starovoitova, gathered just 2% support.  And Union of Right Forces Founder Boris Nemtsov obtained just 1%.  Thus, Russian democrats are hampered by both Putin’s murderous brutality against them and by their apparent lack of popular following. 

Perhaps this situation helps explain the decision of some liberal Russian democrats such as the world chess champion Garry Kasparov to ally with Russian Communists, nationalists, and fascists who share nothing in common with them ideologically.  In response to the fraudulent parliamentary “elections” of December, 2011, the political opposition launched a united campaign against Putin.   These protests represented a united effort of Putin’s political opponents, ranging from liberal democrats to Communists and Russian nationalists.   Russian nationalist blogger and anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny has been a major organizer in this anti-Putin protest campaign.  The speakers in the rally of December 24, 2011, included democratic politicians Nemtsov, Yavlinsky, and Mikhail Kasyanov; Left Front organizer Sergei Udaltsov, Navalny, author Boris Akunin; and political activists Ilya Yashin and Gary Kasparov.

On December 5, 2011, 8,000 people protested against Putin. On December 10, 2011, Russian opposition forces estimated that 60,000 people demonstrated against Putin in Moscow. Russian nationalist blogger Reports from the BBC and London Telegraph indicated that 10,000 protestors gathered in St. Petersburg.  In addition, large-scale protests erupted in several major regions, including 3,000 people in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, 4,000 in Yekaterinberg, and 1,000 in Vladivostok in the Russian Far East.  The protests built momentum for a national movement against Putin which expanded beyond  Moscow and St. Petersburg to include significant numbers of demonstrators in three major regional cities. 

Several additional large-scale rallies took place in Moscow on December 24, 2011, and in early 2012. The number of protestors on December 24, 2011, was at least tens of thousands but is hotly disputed and difficulty to verify.  Police said the crowd was 30,000 while opposition activists estimated the crowd size at 120,000.   

Another opposition rally occurred in Moscow on February 4, 2012.  Once again, the crowd size is hard to verify.  Police say 33,000 people participants, while the opposition claimed 160,000 protestors.  On March 5, 2012, in response to Putin’s ‘re-election’, opposition activists say that 20,000 people gathered in protest in Moscow’s iconic Pushkin Square.  

On the eve of Putin’s inauguration, thousands of people protested against him in Moscow. .  Police counted just 8,000 protestors. The New York Times estimated the crowd size at 20,000. suggested the figure of 60,000, while opposition politician Ilya Ponomarov cited 100,000.  

Unfortunately, unlike other peaceful protests, this gathering was marred by violence.  The reasons for the violence are not clear.  The real question in my mind is whether the violence was primarily provoked by the Putin regime or caused by a small number of provocateurs among the opposition crowd.  The Putin regime seemed to have orchestrated Denial of Service attacks on several liberal media sites such as Echo Moscow radio and Kommersant daily newspaper in advance.  In addition, the Putin regime was clearly prepared for confrontation, having organized a large-scale official response that included several groups of riot police, conscripts, soldiers, and water cannons.  In its editorial of May 7, 2012, said the Putin regime helped provoke the violence by restricting the opposition crowd to an unreasonably small area  . In addition, Based upon my analysis of the Putin regime’s methodology and the limited available evidence, I hold the Putin regime primarily responsible for the violence. 

Another peaceful opposition rally occurred on June 12, 2012 in Moscow.  Police said the crowd was 15,000 while opposition activists estimated 50,000 participants. 

Despite the short-term gains associated with a temporary political unity of Putin’s opponents, the long-term consequences of this strategy are potentially dangerous for Russia’s future.  I support the peaceful movement to remove Putin, Medvedev, and the FSB from power. But I am concerned that the ideologies of Russian Communists, nationalists, and fascists can undermine the development of Russian democracy.   Russian nationalist participants carried a huge banner entitled “We’ll take back Russia for the Russians.”   I can assume these demonstrators are anti-Semitic and support ongoing Russian aggression against Muslims in Chechnya and Daghestan.

Thus, I believe that Russian liberals must focus upon spreading their democratic message and strengthening their following among the Russian people.  Russian liberals must differentiate must clearly articulate their democratic principles and their rejection of extremist ideologies from both the right and left.  They must denounce the spread of anti-Muslim racism among the Russian people which is a direct consequences of the continuous FSB war against the Muslims of the North Caucasus.  The goal of this effort must be two-fold: to remove the Putin / Medvedev FSB regime and to replace it with a liberal democratic government that ends the Russian war in the North Caucasus and equality respects the human rights of all Russian citizens, regardless of their religion or ethnic origin.  

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Moscow Protests amid Russian Political Brain Drain

Between 6,000 and 10,000 Russians demonstrated in Moscow on June 12 to mark Russia Day.  They denounced Russian dictator Putin's rule and demanded the release of political prisoners.  The Putin regime responded to the May 6, 2012 protests against him during his inauguration for his third term as president with a systematic crackdown on his opponents.  27 people face charges for their participation and/or leadership of said protests.  

The protest slogan was "a march for our and your freedom."  The slogan reflects an understanding that as long as some Russians are imprisoned for their political beliefs, no Russians are genuinely free.  The protest leaders included anti-corruption blogger and Russian nationalist Alexei Navalny, who is being persecuted with false embezzlement charges that are likely to lead to his long-term captivity.

My personal hope is that protests and demonstrations against Putin spark a peaceful national movement against him which can remove his regime.  I also hope that Russian democrats begin to more actively address the ongoing genocide in Chechnya and the horrendous human rights abuses against Russian soldiers.  These vital issues are not receiving the attention they deserve.

U.S. Secretary of State Kerry met with Russian opposition activists including legendary human rights activist Lyudmila Alexesevya, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group.  But opposition activist Lev Ponomarov suggested that the Kerry failed to give Russian democrats the unconditional support they received in Soviet times.  The Obama Administration has chosen a policy of defacto alliance with the Putin regime which leads them to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses inside Russia and to Russian support for the Assad regime's horrific attempted genocide against the Sunni majority in Syria.  Ponomarov said that the U.S. diplomats used smooth language that reflected a lack of real moral and practical commitment such as "We are sympathizing with you.  We are not going to abandon you.'"  

Thus Kerry's message was that the Obama Administration does not really care about the fate of Russian democratic dissidents.  Egyptian, Iranian, and Syrian dissidents have similarly been abandoned by the Obama Administration, which has stood with dictators and against freedom throughout the Middle East.  Obama's policy in Russia reflects a global tendency to side with authoritarian regimes and against the forces of democracy and freedom.

Meanwhile, Russian chess champion and opposition leader Garry Kasparov announced that he will not return to Russia for the foreseeable future.  Kasparov feels that remaining in Russia will inevitably subject him to prosecution and long-term imprisonment without allowing him to effectively challenge the Putin regime.  Instead, he intends to focus on encouraging European countries to adopt sanctions against senior Russian officials who are responsible for human rights abuses.  He wants to pass laws similar to the Magnitsky list, named for the whistle-blowing lawyer Sergei Magnitsky who died in custody in 2009.

Kasparov says the Putin regime is trying to stop passage of such laws because they fear the effectiveness of such policies.  I hope that more European countries take a stand against Putin by passing such laws but fear that the Europeans are unlikely to challenge him because of their financial dependence upon Ukrainian gas and their general tendency to shirk confrontation with Putin.

On April 30, Russian economist Sergei Guriyev joined his wife and children in exile in Paris. The story only broke 6 weeks later, perhaps reflecting concerns about Guriyev's safety.  Guriyev was questioned for writing a report in 2011 that was commissioned by Medvedev and which challenged the imprisonment of business tycoon and opposition leader Mikhail Khodorkovsky and called for his conviction to be overturned.

Naturally challenging the captivity of Khodorkovsky, who has become Russia's leading dissident despite his past as a post-Communist oligarch, is extremely dangerous in today's Russia.  And also another reason for the persecution of Guriyev has been his donation of 10,000 rubles ($315 USD) to Navalny.  Guriyev said," I don't agree with many of Navalny's political views.  But I consider him an honest and brave person."  Putin invited Guriyev to return on June 4, but thankfully Guriyev is not falling into this trap because he knows the reality that he would not be safe in Russia today.

The recent departures of Kasparov and Guriyev symbolize a longer-term political brain drain from Russia.  Putin has systematically assassinated his leading political opponents, beginning with my beloved teacher Galina Starovoitova in 1993 and continuing with Nikolai Girenko in 2003, Anna Politkovskaya and Alexandr Litvinenko in 2006, and Stanislav Markelov in 2009, among others.  

In such a climate, Russian dissidents naturally fear for their lives.  And thus the recent decisions of Guriyev and Kasparov to go into exile reflect not only fear for their own safety but also a long-term pessimism about Russia's political future.  Putin has created a climate of fear in which Russian democratic dissidents cannot freely operate, knowing they are subject to not only arbitrary imprisonment and torture but also murder.  

I recently noted a similar phenomenon among Egyptian dissidents, who are also fleeing for their lives amid the  political repression that has followed the collapse of the Mubarak regime in 2011.  The parallels between the oppressive political situations in Egypt and Russia are real and sad and are connected also with the similiarities between the abusive conditions facing Russian and Egyptian male conscripts in their respective armed forces.   


Sunday, April 21, 2013

My Message to Israeli Jews

I am an American Jew. Since I don't live on the front lines and I am not putting my son into the army for three years, I don't feel that I have the right to impose my opinions or ideas upon you. But I do want to share my opinions, thoughts, and ideas with you. You should make the decisions for your country. But since the Jews are all one nation, I feel that as a Jew in the diaspora I have a stake in Israeli politics.

I support you unconditionally regardless of any policy differences I may have with you. I tend on balance to be more hardline than most Israeli Jews on the Palestinian Arab issue and more open-minded when it comes to relations with the Arab world and Iran. I realize that Israeli Jewish leftists share my commitment to Zionism even though we differ dramatically on our proposed methods for implementing Zionism.

I have spent over 12 years studying and analyzing the political conditions in the Arab world and Iran. For this reason I feel qualified to share my commentary and analysis on the Arab world and Iran with you. And my approach is to encourage Israeli Jews to think outside the box when developing your policy toward Iran and the Arab world.

Obviously Israel has every right to defend itself against a regime which is building nuclear weapons with the publicly stated genocidal intention of destroying the Jews, by military means if necessary. But Israeli policy should focus less on containing the current regime than on working with Iranian secular democrats to promote regime change.

Many Iranian secular democrats in exile share your deep moral revulsion against the Islamist regime's open commitment to the destruction of Israel and the Jews. The Iranian secular democrats are your natural allies in the struggle against the Islamist regime in Iran. A free and democratic Iran is in the interests of the Iranian people and the Jews alike. Israeli Jews need to realize that this regime's virulent anti-Semitism does not represent the opinions of the majority of Iranians either inside or outside of Iran. They should not become afraid of the Iranian people simply because this regime is spewing hateful propaganda agaisnt the Jews.

Iranian secular democrats are seeking your support, and you should work with them to help remove this regime from power. You should be standing shoulder to shoulder with the brave followers of Ayatollah Boroujerdi, who are calling for peace and challenging the moral legitimacy of the Islamist regime from a Shi'ite Islamic perspective. You can learn more about Ayatollah Boroujerdi and his followers at

And you should remember that Iran before 1979 was a logical and natural ally of Israel under the Jews and that a post-Islamist Iran would return to a policy of either formal or informal diplomatic relations with Israel. Iran under the Shah had very positive relations with Israel, and a free and democratic Iran would resume this policy. So the current regime represents an aberration in Iranian history and not the dominant trend of Iranian religious and political thought toward Israel and the Jews.

In addition, your policy approach to Egypt needs to take into account the fact that Israel and the Jews do have followers in Egypt. Egypt has had a peace treaty with Israel since 1979, and in the past 30 years a new generation of Egyptian Arabs has grown up accustomed to living in peace with Israel and the Jews. For this reason Egypt has various wings of its own peace movement, including the pacifist struggle of Dr. Maikel Nabil Sanad and his followers. Sanad founded the No for Compulsory Service Movement in Egypt which aims to end the draft and related human rights abuses of the Egyptian military. Sanad also supports Israel and the Jews from a pacifist point of view and has spoken out consistently against anti-Semitism and anti-Israel incitement by both the military and the Muslim Brotherhood. He has supported the Jews under unimaginably dangerous conditions. You can read his articles here at

Sanad pointed out quite correctly that the Mubarak regime promoted virulent anti-Israel and anti-Jewish incitement and was not an ally of the Jews. For this reason, Sanad was one of the intellectual leaders of the struggle against the Mubarak regime. But after the fall of the Mubarak regime, Sanad was ruthlessly persecuted by the Egyptian military. He was imprisoned for 10 months from late March 2011 to January, 2012. He was originally sentenced to 3 years in prison for both challenging the military and for supporting Israel and the Jews. He was released following a four month hunger strike during which he almost died and twice went into a coma largely because he received extensive support from the German government and people.   The deliberate refusal of the Israeli and American Jews to support him on both an individual and institutional level was not only morally unconscionable but also strategically unwise. 

Sadly Sanad and his followers likely represent a minority of the Egyptian people, and the Muslim Brotherhood is certainly larger, better organized and more ruthless than Egyptian secular democrats like Sanad.  The MB has a longstanding and well-developed infrastructure which has been built over 80 years. The MB also has a huge strategic advantage over the secular democrats.  Why? Radical Islamists such as the MB have an obvious place to organize which is not available to the secular democrats: the mosques.  And the secular democrats were more ruthlessly suppressed than the Islamists during the military regime which began in 1952.  (Sadly even many secular democrats are anti-Israel and anti-Jewish.)

But the current Israeli policy of appeasing the MB and ignoring the secular democrats is a huge strategic mistake.  Israel is depriving itself of the opportunity to work with secular democrats such as Sanad who support it.  Israelis should realize that in the long run the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty cannot survive effectively as long as the radical Islamists are in power. A regime which discriminates against women, Coptic Christians, atheists,  and Shi’ites and violates basic human rights will not remain a genuine ally of Israel and the Jews in the long term.  The suppression of the secular democratic forces inside Egypt by the radical Islamists poses a grave threat to the peace process between Israel and Egypt.  For this reason, Israel has a stake in the internal political outcome in Egypt.  And an Israeli policy of appeasing the Islamists is short-sighted and undermines long-term Israeli interests. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Maikel Nabil, Anat Hoffman, and Me

Last night I attended a presentation at my childhood synagogue of Temple Beth El in Boca Raton by Israeli feminist Anat Hoffman.  Temple Beth El is a Reform congregation.  And I have since moved into the Conservative and Orthodox worlds.  I feel most comfortable in the Conservative world because it seeks to combine adherence to halachah or Jewish law with egalitarian values. 
But Temple Beth El was my childhood synagogue, and I was happy to have a reunion with this community.  I saw Robin Eisenberg, who is still the director of religious education at the synagogue as when I was a child.  I enjoyed Rabbi Dan Levin's oustanding introduction to Ms. Hoffman's presentation.  I got a big hug from my childhood rabbi, Merle Singer.  I saw Rabbi Dan Levin and met Rabbi Jessica Spitalnic Brockman for the first time.  I also met Steven Beck, a childhood friend who now works with Anat Hoffman at the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC).  IRAC fights for religious pluralism and against gender discrimination in Israel.  I was surprised to see that Steven was not even wearing a kippah (head covering) because I had heard that he went through a long phase of experimentation with Orthodox Judaism.  He was Orthodox for 7 years but is now secular and lives in Tel Aviv, the secular heartland of Israel.
I listened to Ms. Hoffman’s humorous and thought-provoking presentation.  And she was amused, surprised, and gratified when I told her that she has some followers in Egypt.  I specifically mentioned to her that my dear friend Dr. Maikel Nabil Sanad, an Egyptian dissident, pacifist, and pro-Israel supporter has spoken out in her defense.  I want to share the following entry from Maikel’s blog with Ms. Hoffman, which confirms his outspoken defense of her. 

>> 08 January 2011

Israel should free Anat Hoffman, the Israeli Activist who was arrested because she prayed in front of the Wailing Wall. Israel shouldn't let Fundamental groups affect secularism in Israel. I'm against any separation between sexes ( in Egypt & Israel ) ... Secular activists in both nations should unite against discrimination we face by fundamentalists.

Maikel is an atheist, and he opposes all forms of gender discrimination and segregation.  He also believes that liberals and secular actiivsts in both Egypt and Israel need to unite against fundamentalist religious fanatics.  Maikel posted this blog entry less than 3 months before the beginning of his own 10 month ordeal in prison.  Maikel was originally sentenced to 3 years in prison for challenging the military.  He was released after ten months following a 4 month hunger strike during which he was in a coma twice thanks primarily to the support of the German people and government. As a pro-Israel supporter and Egyptian peace activist, Maikel understands better than most people the links between the struggle for basic human rights in Egypt and the campaign to improve and strengthen Israel's democracy.

I now want to address some specific elements of Ms. Hoffman’s presentation.  I was outraged to hear that an Israeli radio station refuses to hire women and to allow women, including female members of the Knesset, to speak on the air.  Such gender discrimination is flagrant and unacceptable and needs to end immediately.

She also mentioned that IRAC had challenged gender segregation on public buses in Israel.  Initially I thought that gender separation on public buses was acceptable in haredi (strictly Orthodox) areas because it is in accordance with the customs of these communities.  But once Ms. Hoffman explained how it worked in practice, that women were literally forced to sit in the back of the bus, I understood that this practice was humiliating, discriminatory, and unacceptable.  I am glad that IRAC has helped to end such policies. 

She said the Women of the Wall, an organization that fights for women’s rights at the Kotel or Western Wall, is a North American invention.  The goal of Women of the Wall is to bring American democratic principles into Jewish religious observance in Israel.  Every month on Rosh Hodesh, a group of Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Jewish women hold a prayer service at the Kotel.  They read from the Torah, receive aliyot, and pray with tallitot (prayer shawls). 

But because the Kotel is run like an Orthodox synagogue, women are barred from wearing a tallis, singing aloud, and reading from the Torah.  And these feminist activists are systematically harassed by Haredi Jews who throw chairs at them and by the police who sometimes arrest them.  I have mixed feelings about the Women of the Wall.  On the one hand, I share their objection to the exclusion of women from the Orthodox prayer service, and for this reason I tend to pray in egalitarian Conservative synagogues.  I can understand the reasons why Haredi (traditional Orthodox) Jews object to such prayer services even though I don’t agree with such objections. 

On the other hand, I have also spent enough time praying in Orthodox environments that I have become accustomed to and comfortable with Orthodox prayer services.  I had the opportunity to pray at the Kotel for a few hours during my visit to Israel in 2007.  I felt very much at home at the Kotel because it reminded me of the Orthodox synagogues where I had spent many years praying.  I picked up a siddur (prayerbook) and davened shacharit (morning prayer) and felt a deep and moving spiritual connection to this ancient site.  Touching the Wall and putting a note in the Wall was an incredible experience that met my spiritual needs. I didn’t feel at all persecuted, victimized, or silenced as a woman because I felt I was visiting an Orthodox synagogue.   For this reason I probably wouldn’t join the Women of the Wall services because I don’t feel the need to pray in such a vocal fashion at the Kotel. 

But I also listened to the stories of women at Temple Beth El who expressed deep personal anguish about being subjected to a mechitzah (prayer divider) and being deprived of the opportunity to participate in a vocal prayer service at the Kotel.  I understood that the Orthodox prayer structure at the Kotel does not meet their spiritual needs because it clashes with their deeply held belief in egalitarian prayers.  I feel comfortable suspending my egalitarian beliefs temporarily while praying at the Kotel, but many other American Reform and Conservative Jewish women want to pray at the Kotel in the same egalitarian fashion as they pray in their hometown synagogues.  For this reason they attend mixed gender egalitarian services at the Robinson’s Arch, and they also participate in Women of the Wall services on the women’s side of the Kotel.   

I had to think carefully about this complicated and controversial issue.  I finally concluded that I support the rights of Women of the Wall participants to pray on the women’s side of the Kotel in their own fashion.  Such prayer services clearly meet the deep spiritual needs of many Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox Jewish women who want to pray vocally at the Kotel.  I realized that I can support the efforts of some of my fellow Jewish feminists even though I don’t feel comfortable participating in them.  I also am revolted by the way that Haredi Jews violate the sanctity of the Kotel by throwing chairs over the mechitzah at the Jewish feminists who are engaged in a sacred prayer service.  And I think the police clearly should not arrest and harass Jewish women simply for praying as such arrests are clearly a flagrant form of gender discrimination. 

I also support Ms. Hoffman’s proposal that certain hours of the day at the Kotel should be made available for egalitarian prayer, while other hours should be set aside for Haredi forms of prayer.  I think such proposals are meant to create the opportunity to share the Kotel and find such ideas intriguing and worth considering.  I support Sharansky’s efforts to expand the Robinson’s Arch for egalitarian prayer but expect that such proposals will take many years to be implemented and face many major obstacles. 

Now I want to mention of my friend Dr. Maikel Nabil Sanad’s latest article.  Unlike Maikel, I support conscription in Israel.  But I think conscientious objector Natan Blanc should be offered the opportunity to participate in national service projects such as working in a kibbutz, as a firefighter, in environmental protection,  as a medic, or as a hospital volunteer.  I think national service is better for Mr. Blanc than prison. 

I was appalled and outraged to learn that Egyptian conscientious objectors such as Emad Dafrawi and Mohamed Fathy are not allowed to work and study.  I greatly appreciate Mr. Dafrawi’s support for Israel and the Jews and admire Mr. Fathy’s courage in refusing to join an army that has murdered civilians since the fall of the Mubarak regime in 2011. Employers who dare to hire them face up to two years in prison.  I have also faced systematic discrimination in the workplace by employers who refused to hire me because of my autism.  In the USA, employers are not faced with the threat of imprisonment for hiring autistic people, but they face social ostracism for doing so.  I have been intentionally deprived of a livelihood due to discrimination for 16 years, and so I can empathize with the Egyptian conscientious objectors who cannot work because of their beliefs.  And I am also appalled that these young men cannot travel or even hold a passport.

Finally, I spoke via facebook with Maikel’s brother Mark, who told me that he is still being denied the freedom to travel outside Egypt. Mark is being harassed in part because of his leadership in the Egyptian pacifist movement founded by his brother Maikel.  And Mark is also being treated by the Egyptian regime as a hostage, and the regime is trying to intimidate Maikel from speaking out against them by holding his brother a hostage.  International pressure is needed to demand that the Egyptian regime immediately allow Mark his human right to travel freely outside of Egypt and stop violating his freedom of movement. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Israel and Egypt Connected

I was reading the local Jewish Journal today, and I read it with new eyes thanks to my friendship with Dr. Maikel Nabil Sanad and my exposure to his pacifist ideas.  I haven’t adopted his pacifist ideology, but I am undoubtedly influenced by him and his ideas.  I was reading the South Palm Beach County Jewish Journal from Florida in February 20, 2013.  The articles were on page 8.

The first article was entitled “Israel holds exercise simulating rocket strikes on schools.”  Sadly, such an exercise is a necessity when one considers that southern Israel has been under nearly constant bombardment from first PLO and then Hamas rockets since the year 2000.  Northern Israel was also rocketed by Hezbollah during the 2006 Lebanon War.  Under such conditions, such exercises are important mechanisms for protecting the safety and lives of Jewish children.

However, I also feel a deep sadness about the fact that such exercises are necessary in the first place.  I am greatly saddened that Jewish children have to learn how to find the nearest bomb shelter as early as kindergarten.  I wish that Jewish kids could go to school in peace without worrying about how to locate a bomb shelter.

The other article was entitled “Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem vandalized.”  The article indicated that Jewish extremists had vandalized the historic Mamilla cemetery in Jerusalem, which has existed since the 11th century.  The attackers posted not only Stars of David but also the highly offensive phrases “death to Arabs” and “Mohammed is dead.”  The attackers were obviously intending to engage in anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hate, and their behavior is uncivilized, undemocratic, and completely unacceptable.  I think that Yerushalayim should remain the undivided and eternal capital of Israel and the Jews.  But such vandalism violates Israel’s commitment to religious freedom and respect for all faiths in a united Jerusalem and should not be allowed.

I thought back to Maikel’s very brave statement announcing his refusal to serve in the Egyptian army in 2010.  In his statement, he spoke of his opposition to the ongoing Egyptian regime’s harassment against Israel and the Jews.  He specifically blasted the 1948 Egyptian invasion of Israel and Nasser’s decision to close the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping in 1967, which led to the Six Day War. He protested Egypt’s ongoing support for anti-Israel terrorists.

And I realized the connections between the fates of Israel and Egypt.  I saw that when Israeli Jewish extremists attack Arab Muslims in Jerusalem, they undermine the prospect of co-existence between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs.  They also weaken the efforts of our brave Egyptian allies like Maikel, who are supporting the Jews under unimaginably dangerous conditions inside Egypt.  Egyptian liberals are battling a ferocious onslaught of radical Islam at home, and they need Western and Israeli support for their struggle.  And also if the Egyptian liberals win their struggle against radical Islam, then they will have the opportunity to normalize relations with Israel and the Jews.  I hope that the support of Egyptian liberals for Israel and the Jews can one day help contribute to creating the conditions under which Jewish children no longer have to prepare to find bomb shelters.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Some Observations on the Russian Army and Egyptian Pacifism

 The Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers in Russia is one of the most important civic institutions in Russian society.  The movement is driven by the natural desire of Russian mothers to protect their sons against the brutal human rights abuses which are tragically a rampant problem in the Russian army.  These women are acting on their maternal instincts for a higher cause: liberating their sons from all forms of institutional abuse in the Russian military. 
In studying the history of this organization’s achievements, the close connection between the progress of Russian democracy and the efforts to reform and humanize the Russian army became very obvious to me.  The movement actually began during the latter stages of the Soviet Union, when the political space created by Glasnost, or openness, allowed for public discussion of previously taboo and suppressed issues.  In 1988-89, Maria Ivanovna Kirbasova started a national protest against the practice of taking young men directly from their classrooms into the military.  Such a policy represents a grave human rights violation against men, who are deprived of their liberty without any due process simply because they are males who reached a certain age.  This policy is a form of legalized kidnapping which should be banned worldwide. As a result of the mother’s protests against this grave injustice, some 17,600 young men were able to return from the army a year early in order to continue their studies. Thus, these young men were effectively freed from captivity and allowed to return to the civilian world of freedom and dignity.   

Critical additional steps to protect the lives of Russian young men were taken in late 1990 and early 1991 just prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union.  In November, 1990, “A special commission to investigate deaths and trauma occurring in the army was established.” Such a step would have been unthinkable during the prior repressive Soviet regimes.  The mere fact that such a commission was established at all to discuss these issues represented an enormous step forward.  It symbolized an official recognition of the necessity of turning the Russian army from an instrument of systematic official brutalization and militarism into a civilized institution which respects basic human rights. 

In December, 1990, a more important and far-reaching development occurred.  “The efforts of CSMR led to the creation of a special assembly point for military men who have voluntarily left their military units in order to save their own lives and dignity, which still operates today.” In a country where hundreds of men die and tens of thousands more men are gravely wounded every year by an infamous and barbaric military system of hazing known in Russian as dedovshchina, such a step is essential to saving the lives of Russian young men.  The existence of these assembly points literally represents the difference between life and death for defenseless conscripts who are being severely beaten almost to the point of death by their officers and who are most likely contemplating suicide to escape their captivity.  10,000 men have received help, and undoubtedly such services have saved many lives.
In 1991, the protections for abused soldiers were dramatically expanded.  The Russian army began implementing a policy of amnesty toward soldiers who had fled their units to escape the control of oppressive commanders. As a result, soldiers were no longer sitting ducks for abusive officers, and now they had options to defend and protect themselves from human rights violations.   

Soldiers gained two additional and critical rights in 1991.  Russian military servicemen were granted health and life insurance for the first time in history, a change which represented an increasing recognition of the humanity of members of the Russian military. In response to soldiers’ complaints about being forced to serve in the Caucasus, the rules were changed to require that soldiers had to agree voluntarily to such service.  In 1993, a new democratic law on army service containing all the requested amendments of the women’s committees. Yeltsin even promised to end conscription during the 1996 Presidential campaign, but he did not keep this promise.

Unfortunately, the first post-Communist Russian invasion of Chechnya in December, 1994, marked the beginning of the end not only for the rights of Russian soldiers but also for the whole project of political democratization in Russia.  During this war, 500 Russian soldiers were granted the right to conscientious objection for the first time in Russian history. However, this war also represented yet another act of Russian genocide against the Chechen people.  This war set in motion the conditions which ultimately led to the total collapse of Russia’s democratic institutions and the restoration of a highly authoritarian regime which systematically violates human rights in all arenas of Russian life, including the military. 

In 2002, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report documented that every year in Moscow and St. Petersburg alone, hundreds of young men are forcibly kidnapped and shipped straight to military bases to begin their army service.  Every year during conscription periods, Russian citizens witness the horrifying sight of hundreds of young men being forcibly detained for military service without even being allowed to phone their families.

The detention procedures themselves are fascistic in nature.  The conscription board sends a list of young men who have not complied with their draft summons to the local police in every city and region.  The local police then systematically hunt down the young men, arresting them at their homes, metro stations, and other public locations, and shipping them straight to the nearest conscription office.  Such conscripts are typically sent to a military unit on the same day as their detention. 
HRW documents several specific cases of such terrible practices. On the morning of May 16, 2002, Stephan O was arrested at his home and sent straight to military service. On the morning of December 27, 2000, Dmitri K was arrested at home.

Some young men were even detained as a result of random checks of young men of military age at metro station. For example, Alexander B was arrested in the Moscow metro system on his way to work.  He was placed on a bus specifically chartered to send young men to the draft board, and once 15 additional young men had been rounded up, they were driven forcibly to the local conscription office.

These forcible detentions of young men for purposes of conscription show that the conscription system in the Russian military is based upon brute force and lacks a legitimate moral and ethical basis.  Any conscription system that is built upon organized kidnapping lacks a moral validity.
Such a conscription system should be abolished because it subjects young men to so many nnecessary and barbaric human rights violations. But of course this conscription system is simply a symbol of the methods of totalitarian control which underpin the Putin FSB regime.  As long as the Putin FSB regime remains in power, talk about reforming the Russian military is a waste of time.  The full restoration of Russia’s democratic institutions is an essential prerequisite for ending conscription and reforming the Russian military.  Russia’s liberals need to make the abolition of conscription as a central plank in their political program and to treat it as a major goal of their movement.  Naturally the Putin FSB regime will not fall easily, but as long as this regime remains in power, Russian conscripts will remain at the mercy of a horrifying and abusive military system. 

Dedovshchina is responsible for truly horrific practices which represent institutionalized human rights violations in the Russian army.  Dedovshchina means “rule of the grandfathers” in Russian.  Under this system, second year soldiers, known as dedy, or grandfathers, have  absolute authority over the lives of new conscripts, who are subjected to systematic bullying and abuse at the hands of their immediate superiors.  Conscripts suffer from sleep deprivation as a result of being force to work throughout the night.  Conscripts are routinely beaten to death by their superiors, and they are also denied medical attention and given spoiled food.

In 2005 alone, 450 soldiers were murdered as a result of such conditions in the Russian army.  In August, 2011, alone, 3 conscripts committed suicide.  And according to official Ministry of Defense statistics, 149 soldiers killed themselves in 2009. Most likely the real numbers are much higher.  In addition, official military statistic indicated that 2,270 conscripts had run away from their units in the first half of 2002.  But again these numbers are way too low because they don’t include the thousands of cases in which conscripts are recaptured and returned to their units within ten days of attempting to escape.
Thousands of conscripts suffer physical injuries at the hands of the Russian system every year.  Official statistics indicated that 2,500 soldiers were physically hurt as a result of dedovshchina in the first 8 months of 2003 alone.  Such official statistics are undoubtedly an underestimate, but if these numbers are correct, then at least 3,750 soldiers are injured by dedovshchina every year.
Some injuries are serious and lifelong.  For instance, Denis Ivanov suffered a spinal injury for the ‘crime’ of drinking his superior’s tea. Even after leaving the military, Petr R. still suffered bad headaches from the beatings he endured while in the Russian army. Vladimir P broke his jaw and temporarily lost his hearing in one ear from beatings. Andrei S suffered additional injuries to his childhood limp from beatings.

The case of Andrei Sychyov illustrates the horrific suffering of many hapless conscripts.  Sychyov was forced to squat, presumably for hours, until he lost all blood flow to his genitals and legs; he was also required to undergo several ampuatations.  Sychyov got more justice than most conscripts in his situation, as one of his immediate abusers received a 4 year prison sentence.  However, the senior officers who allowed these abuses to occur on their watch ended up unscathed. Failing to hold senior officers accountable for abuses committed by their subordinates fosters a climate of impunity within the Russian army which endangers the lives and safety of Russian conscripts. 

The case of Andrei D. in late 2001 and early 2002 also illustrates the systematic human rights abuses which routinely occur in the Russian army.  Andrei D. was repeatedly and brutally beaten for refusing to sew collars on the jackets of his superiors. His superiors also confiscated his food during mealtimes, thus subjecting him to starvation.  Page 18 After one of his bosses beat him over the head with a stool, his temperature spiked to a dangerously high level of 102.2 to 104 degrees Farenheit, and he was taken to the sickbay.  But the dedy accompanied him even to the sick bay, where he was forced to continue serving them, ibid, pg. 20

In reaction to such abusive conditions, Andrei D tried to escape after two and a half months of services.  He was recaptured because a fellow conscript informed on him, and he was of course beaten for his escape attempt.  Ibid, pg 20  Thankfully, his second escape attempt six weeks later was successful.  But escaping was not easy. He had to hide from military patrols who could have recaptured him for five days, during which he barely ate or slept.  Ibid, pg. 21
He received aid from compassionate and brave civilians who gave him regular clothes so he could shed his military uniform and told him which train to catch to avoid the military patrols. He took a train to St. Petersburg, where he obtained further help from a church in the city.  An elderly male church member gave him a bed and helped him reach the Soldiers’ Mothers in St. Petersburg.  Ibid, pg. 21

A former military psychiatrist diagnosed him with a personality disorder which allowed him to gain a medical discharge from the army.  However, this psychiatric diagnosis automatically appears now on his military identification card and greatly impedes his job search.  His former employer from his pre-military service days would not re-hire him once they learned of his diagnosis. Thus, having escaped one abusive system in the military, he is now at the mercy of another oppressive employment structure which excludes him on account of his mental illness. Ibid, pp. 21-23   
One conscript, Aleksei K., was so brutalized by the practices of dedovshchina and so desperate to escape these abusive conditions that he was willing to volunteer to serve in the Chechen war zone.  The fact that a conscript would prefer service in the often genocidal Chechen war zone shows how desperate he was to escape from the abuse in his unit.   

Many conscripts will literally walk for months to escape their units and walk home. Alexander O left his abusive unit in Novorosiissk and spent two months finding his way home, primarily on foot.  He spent time with homeless people and rode a cargo train home part of the way.  Vadim Kh lived in the mountains of Karelia for three months before a villager found him and contacted his mother, thus allowing him to return home.

Sadly, some mothers will send their terrified sons back to their units even when they see clear evidence that their sons are being physically abused.  Vadim Kh’s mother allowed him to return to his unit even after seeing multiple bruises under his knees while on a home visit. Similarly, Alexander Sukhanov’s mother twice sent him back to his abusive unit, and she only allowed to remain at home once he returned with burn marks on his back from torture.
In addition, conscripts remain at the mercy of the military even after they flee from abusive units. The military system is structured so that conscripts must return to the very environment that terrorized them in the first place in order to obtain their freedom.  In order to gain a medical discharge from the army, they must return to the military’s control by entering a military hospital. Such procedures seem structurally designed to terrorize already frightened conscripts who fear for their lives if forced to the environments in which they were beaten and psychologically abused.

For obvious reasons, many brutalized runaway conscripts had panic attacks when officials of the Soldiers’ Mothers organization tried to persuade them to return to the military’s control. Such a move places already traumatized young men at risk for being returned to their abusive unit or even imprisoned for desertion.  Such barbaric procedures symbolize the extreme degree of totalitarian control which the Russian army inflicts upon the bodies of Russian men.  Such men are effectively prisoners and slaves for the duration of their service in the Russian army – where they are subjected to the risks of systematic beatings, starvation, intentional deprivation of medical attention, and even death at the hands of their commanders.     

The main reason why such abuses occur with such impunity is that only members of the lower socioeconomic classes are forced to serve in the military in the first place.  Less than 10% of Russian men eligible for military service actually fulfill this obligation, and most wealthy Russians pay bribes to avoid serving in the military.  As a result, wealthy Russians feel no moral responsibility to take any action on behalf of powerless conscripts, who are typically from poor families and often from rural areas.

In his book Putin’s Labyrinth, Steve LeVine writes, “But even the shocking stories of Russian soldiers mistreated by their own military didn’t seem to move most people; the main thing was to pay the necessary bribes so that your son was not conscripted or sent to fight there. Only the poorest, dullest, or most rural Russian youths seemed to end up in Chechnya” (page xix).
Similar conditions prevail in Egypt, where middle class youths commonly bribe their way out of military service.  In light of this reality, the courageous efforts of Dr. Maikel Nabil Sanad in founding the No for Compulsory Service Movement in Egypt in 2009 greatly stand out.  This movement was established with the worthy, ambitious, and brave aim of ending conscription in Egypt. Sanad received a medical exemption from military service as a result of his heart condition, and thus he had no need to found this movement.  He was acting on behalf of voiceless Egyptian youth who lack the resources to obtain the media attention they need to address comparable human rights abuses in the Egyptian army.   And he also served 10 months in prison in 2011 and early 2012 for challenging the military, including 4 months on a hunger strike. 

I am greatly moved by the courage of Egyptian conscientious objectors.  They raise many of the same objections against forcible conscription in a totalitarian regime that I myself feel in relation to the Russian army.   For example, in his public statement explaining the reasons for his conscientious objection in April, 2012, Emad Dafrawi states, “Conscription is slavery because it coerces me to do something I didn’t choose, as well as it violates my basic freedoms of movement and travel. I refuse that someone chooses for me my thoughts and my beliefs by coercion.” Obviously the Russian army conscription system does not allow young men to travel and move freely, detaining them at home and on their way to work and forcing them to do things that they obviously disagree with and do not wish to participate in.   
Similarly, an Egyptian Muslim pacifist Mohammed Fathy declares, I’m also against conscription because it robs from humans the natural right to bodily freedom, freedom of choice, expressing opinions and beliefs, and mobility. It discriminates on the basis of gender, religion, the geographic origin.” Naturally the whole Russian army initiation system of dedovshchina violates the rights of young men to their bodily freedom, subjecting them to beatings, torture, starvation, deprivation of medical care, and even death.

On its web site, the movement explains the reasons for their rejection of compulsory military service:
“1- Because it's just a shape of slavery. It takes away freedom of the citizens and forces them to do what they never wanted or choose
2- Because it's a forced labor system. It forces conscripts to work against their will and without charge
3- Because it's a violation of Individual freedom. We believe that every citizen is free to choose and decide everything belongs to him, and this of course includes his choice to join armed forces or not”

These three conditions almost perfectly describe the realities of life in the Russian army.  Conscripts in the Russian army are effectively slaves who are deprived of their freedom and forced to service their superiors against their will.  They are also effectively subjected to forced labor, including personal service to their immediate superiors under abusive and inhumane conditions and sometimes being sold into actual slavery for the financial benefit of higher-ranking officers.  The forcible detentions of hundreds of young men for military service on the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg every year represent an obvious and grave violation of individual freedom.

The reasons for their objection to military service include the fact that only men are subjected to forcible conscription.  They state that they oppose conscription is a form of “sex discrimination, because military service is compulsory for males, while females are exempted from it.”

These brave young Egyptian male feminists have helped me to understand that forcing only men to serve in the military is a grave form of sex discrimination against men.  After all, only men are forcibly arrested in the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg for compulsory military service.  Only Russian men are subjected to beatings, torture, starvation, denial of essential medical attention, sleep deprivation, psychological abuse, and even death at the hands of their commanders.  Only men are deprived of essential bodily and psychological freedoms in the name of military service.  In both Russia and Egypt, traditional gender roles are enforced by subjecting young men to unnecessary and severe brutality in the form of forcible military service. 
In addition, they state, “Military service restricts the right of citizens to travel, which undermine freedom of movement and the right of emigration.”  Obviously kidnapping young men and forcing them into the army violates their right to travel and movement.  In addition, many conscripts are effectively slaves in their units, who are unable to move freely and to protect their bodies against grave human rights abuses. 

And the Soldiers’ Mothers in Russia and the Egyptian pacifists have the same goal: protecting the safety and humanity of the young men in their societies by ending conscription and reducing the human rights abuses in the armed forces. Egyptian pacifists have the following goals:

“3- Allowing the press to monitor military performance, exposing any corruption in the army (Repeal of the law of: prohibition of the dissemination of any information on the armed forces)
4- Guarantee conscripts right in Egyptian army, by all means and ways, to ensure their safety, dignity and freedom”

Allowing the press to freely monitor military performance and expose corruption in the armed forces in Russia would be a great step forward in challenging the most flagrant human rights abuses.  In addition, the Egyptian pacifists specifically seek to protect the conscripts’ right to safety, dignity, and freedom, which are clearly lacking at even the most basic level in the Russian army.  As long as the Putin regime remains in power, the bodies of Russian young men will be in danger of torture, beatings, and starvation.  Thus, removing the Putin regime is essential for protecting the lives and safety of Russian men who are being systematically brutalized by the thousands every year in the Russian army.  Similarly, the bodies of Egyptian young men are at risk of grave human rights abuses under both the military and the Muslim Brotherhood regimes.  The only way to protect the lives and safety of Egyptian young men in the military is to promote democratic change which will guarantee the human rights of all Egyptian citizens.