06/11/12

A Game Theoretic Perspective on the Current Voting Dilemma

I am here trying to expose the rational reasons of my choice. My decision is to invalidate my vote in the upcoming elections.
You have a rational player (lets call him S) who is now entrusted with setting a up game were different parties compete. S has a vested interest in the outcome of the game. S would have to be incredibly altruistic not to make the rules of the game favor the outcome he desires.

You have also have another player, (lets call him M) who has been getting small positive payoffs from S. M was foolish enough to think he could outmaneuver S at his own game. In fact, M was directly responsible for putting S in a position to put down the rules of the game and was immediately given small rewards, while another player (named R) objected strongly. 

In strategic interactions between S and R, S has shown himself to be completely non-altruistic and R suffered severe negative payoffs. In strategic interactions between M and R, M has shown himself to be also completely non-altruistic and R suffered negative payoffs, but not as severe as when it interacted with S. 

R is now asked to support either M or S in a game in which he was eliminated. The outcome of that game will determine who gets to interact strategically with R in the future. R’s support for either player is costly (i.e. it is an acknowledgment of the rules of  the game). R knows that S will not be fully eliminated under any outcome. R calculates that his expected payoff is unlikely to change under any outcome. R knows that although long ago his payoffs were strongly correlated with M, but that has ceased to be the case.
R decides not play this game.

09/6/11

Students for change

I had to pleasure to attend yesterday a seminar inaugurating the “students for change” initiative. It was heartening to see high school students seriously concerned about the that state of education and Egypt and trying passionately to do something about it. They expressed their concerns about:

  1. The poor state of education in Egypt generally where the  focus is in on rote learning and very little emphasis in placed on creatively or decent intellectual development 
  2. The growing disparity in the quality of education between elite schools for the well to do and the public schools that have suffered for decades from under-funding and general corruption.
  3. The need for students to have a voice in shaping general education policies as well as those within their schools. Student government has been either non-existent or merely ceremonial during the Mubark era. 

The presenters put forth a number of ideas to start building some sort of cohesion among students from different schools and to get them to start working together. They had a range of activities around sports and talent development. They posed questions for audience about how structure themselves and to get things moving. They were concerned about getting the balance right between getting not being top heavy or  dictatorial while fostering a unity of purpose and objective.

It was clear to me that the issues of organization and trying address complex problems at the grass roots is something that Egypt as whole in struggling with in rediscovering its route to democracy. Seeing young students trying with a great deal of passion and enthusiasm to work those issues out confirms to me that this land will never be the same.

08/2/11

This land will never be the same

A fading  memory  is all that remains
But, this land will never be the same
My brothers, to power, will never  bow again
The cries of justice, will never be in vain

Did you hear them in Tahrir, calling your name?
Where were you? did you call their sit-in so very lame?
But what have you done to ease their pain?
A prisoner to fear,  do you want forever to remain?

No! No! this land will never be the same
We never will one day, to oppression, be tame.

08/1/11

The Morally Right and the Politically Expedient

The sit-in in Tahrir has been going on for over three weeks now. The key demand of putting on trial the murders of the protesters has yet to be met. The supreme council of the armed forces (SCAF) has made a couple of concessions during the sit-in. Mubarak and El-Adly’s (the police chief who is believed have given order to shoot the protests)   trail will be televised. There was also a significant reshuffling of the ministerial cabinet.

However, in the eyes of many who are now in Tahrir, those concessions did not go far enough and the key demand  has yet to be met. For more details on the background to the sit-in, check my earlier post. The fact remains is that this extended sit-in is becoming more unpopular by the day. Many Egyptians fail to understand what it sit-in is all about and the SCAF controlled state media is constantly describing it as futile and counter productive and the prime cause of all economic woes.

Many also argue that it is not time for direct democracy, those who participated in the revolution should be getting ready for  parliamentary elections that is coming up in a couple of months. They should be doing a better job of communicating with the masses. It they miss that opportunity, the Islamists will win by a landslide and will be the authors of the post-revolutionary constitution. These argument and some remedial actions are suggested in this blog post by Amr Bassiouny.

Many of the organized movements of the revolution have suspended their sit-in and issued a statement to that effect. However, most of the independents decided to stay in Tahrir in solidarity with families of the martyrs. These families are likely to be subject to abuse and harassment by the police if those responsible for the death of their loved ones are not put on trial first. So there is a moral imperative not to abandon them. However, such extended sit-in might eventually spell disaster. The relationship between the remaining protesters  and shopkeepers in down town Cairo are becoming increasingly tense. The shopkeepers are loosing significant business due the sit-in. There is some fear that they might take violent action against those at the sit-in.

The more sensible amongst  the protesters called for a scaling back of the sit-in and opening the square for traffic. However, a great many of the protesters see that this will slacken the pressure and will not bring justice to the families of the martyrs. That is despite their dwindling numbers after their diminishing ability to secure the square.   The sad fact remains that every passing day many average folks are heaping more scorn the revolutionaries with the square being closed for normal traffic.

Collective decision making is becoming increasingly hard to do. Yesterday, I ran into Gigi Ibrahim and  Rasha Azb in the square both showed signs of exhaustion. They have been trying hard all day talk sense into to the morally decent, but political naive to reach some sort compromise. The majority view in Tahrir at the moment is for continuing the sit-in while closing the square.

In any case, the revolutionaries should be doing a better job of communicating with the average Egyptians to counter the slandering campaign of state sponsored media. They should also find a way of helping those who are adversely affected by the sit-in to prevent further antagonism.

These are very tricky times indeed. Some battles you can choose, others you can not walk away from. For the latter a good strategy and clear vision is needed. Those are very hard to do without some form of centralized leadership. What was once a key strength of the Egyptian revolution is now turning into a major weakness.

Update: Catastrophe!!! As soon as I published this post, I learned that Tahrir is being attacked by police and army forces with the blessing and support of the residents. The sit-in is being violently brought to an end. This is the biggest set back to the revolution yet! I expect more curbs on the right to protest in the next few days. Please read this testimony to get a sense of what happened. 

07/7/11

إنطباعات عن إلتقاء الطيور الرابع: عن الإقتصاد


بداية اعتذر لقراء مدونتى عند عن عدم الكتابة عن إلتقاء الطيور الثالث الذى تم فى الأسكندرية و ذلك لظروف عملى التى حالت بينى و حضور هذه اللقاء الرائع.

كنت متحمساً جداً لهذه الندوة التى حاول فيها المشاركون تلمس شكل النظام الإقتصادى فى مصر بعد الثورة و معنى العدالة الإجتماعية و كيفية تطبيقها. المعروف للجميع ان تحقيق العدالة الإجتماعية مطلب رئيسى و كان الهتاف الأول للثورة “عيش، حرية، كرامة إنسانية” تعبيراً عن هذا و طلباً فى إعادة تنظيم المجتمع بشكل جديد.
و قد كان تجاهل كثيراً من النخب الفكرية لحقوق الفقراء و حصر خطابهم فى جدل حول مسار التحول الديمقراطى المختزل فى “الدستور اولاُ” او “الإنتخابات اولاً” سبباً فى ذياع سيط المدونة محمد ابو الغيط “الفقراء اولاً يا ولاد الكلب“. و تفاقم الحال لدرجة ان كلمة “نخبة” اصبحت سبة و كأن كل من صنف ضمن هذا الفريق منفصل عن مجتمعه و يعيش فى برج عاجى ينظّر فيه بعيداً عن آلام الواقع و مرارته. و نحن الأن على أعتاب جمعة 8 يوليو نجد من يطلقون على هذا اليوم “جمعة الفقراء اولاً”. لكنى لا ارى نفسى موافق فى إختزال اولوية العمل الثورى فى شعار كهذا كما عبر عن ذلك عمرو عزت فى مقاله الرائع. و بعيداً عن الإختزالات فقد آن الأوان للحديث عن الإقتصاد و شكله بعد الثورة و بناء ارضية مشتركة تستوعب الإختلافات و توحد الغايات.
فى هذه الندوة حاول علاء عبد الفتاح ان يتغلب على بعض المشاكل التى بدت جلية فى اللقاء الثانى من عدم إحساس كثير من الحضور بالتفاعل و المشاركة. كان النصف الأول للندوة مخصصاً لحوار مفتوح مع الحضور يطرحون فيه رؤاهم لمعنى العدالة الإجتماعية و يتم فى النصف الثانى توجيه اسئلة للمتحدثين بناء على ما طرحة الحضور من آراء و تساؤلات. و نجحت هذه الطريقة فى التنظيم الى حد كبير فى زيادة تركيز و مشاركة الحضور و تحركت حبال الحديث بوتيرة سريعة جعلتها امتع تويت ندوة حضرتها.

المتحدثين كانوا فريقان: إشتراكيون ممثلون فى خالد على و وائل جمال و لبنى درويش و ليبراليون ممثلون فى وائل نوارة و مينوش عبد المجيد. احب هنا ان القى الضوء على بعض مجريات الندوة:

  • كان هناك اتفاق على ان العدلة الإجتماعية مطلب اساسى يحب ان يتم السعى إلى تحقيقه.
  • اختلف الحضور و المتحدثون عن مدلول العدالة الإجتماعية. البعض رأى انها تعنى تحقيق حد ادنى من الحياة الإنسانية و أخرون تكلموا على وجوب إلغاء التفاوتات الطبقية الشاسعة
  • ابدى كثير من اللبرالييون توجسهم من افكار لبنى درويش الراديكلية
  • كان هناك إتفاق على ضرورة فرض ضرائب تصاعدية و لكن بعد الحضور من الرأسماليين ابدوا انزعاجهم عندما ذكرت ارقام مثل 75% من الدخل او الربح
  • بينما طالب الإشتراكيون بضرورة إتاحة الفرصة لأطر جديدة لتنظيم الحركة الإقتصادية لم يكونوا واضحيين بالقدر الكافى فى كيفية عمل ذلك. كان هناك بعض التناقض بين اهمية دور الدولة فى لعب دور اكبر فى الحركة الإقتصادية و فى نفس الوقت دعوة لعدم بناء بيروقراطية قد تقتل قدرة المواطنيين على حل مشاكلهم الإقتصادية بنفسهم.
  • وضح الإشتراكيون انهم لا يدعون لأفكار بالية كرأسمالية الدولة و نموذج الإتحاد السوفييتى و لكن هم يريدون اشكال جديدة لتنظيم الحركة الإقتصادية فيها بعد إنسانى.
  • الليبراليون اشاروا إلى ان ما طبق فى مصر فى العقود السابقة لم يكن إقتصاداً رأسمالى حر و لكن كانت رأسمالية محاسيب يتم فيه وضح كثيراً من العراقيل امام صغار المستثمرين
  • إعترف الليبراليون بمشاكل الإقتصاد الحر (خاصة النموذج الأمريكى) و ما يسببه من تذبذب و إنهيارت إقتصادية مع ما يصاحب ذلك من الظلم الإجتماعى و لكنهم رأوا انه لا خيار من المضى قدماً فى هذه المنظومة مع ترشيد مساؤها من خلال تفعيل أليات للرقابة الإقتصادية و سن القوانين التى تشجع على المنافسة و تمنع الإحتكار.
  • اتفق الفريقان على ضرورة اعطاء الفرصة و الحرية للطبقة العاملة فى إكتشاف حلول جديدة لمشاكلهم الإقتصادية و إن كانوا عبروا عن أراء متباينة فيما بيهم عن دور الدولة فى تحقيق ذلك.
  • يرى كاتب هذه السطور ضرورة ان يتم بناء نماذج محاكاه (Simulation models) لتقييم اى سياسات على الحركة الإقتصادية و تأثيرها على توزيع الثروة و جودة الحياة لدى المواطنين (Quality of life). هذه النماذج لا يمكن فى اى حال من الأحوال ان تحاكى الواقع بكل تعقيداته و لكنها فى تباينها تكشف عن الإفتراضات التى قام بها مصميها و تعطى إطاراً علمياً يتم فيه مناقشة الأفكار و تنقيحها و التعلّم من الواقع بعيداً عن الحلول الإيديلوجية المعلبة. و اود ان اذكر هنا المجهودات التى تمت فى هذا المضمار من الباحثون فى علم المتداخلات (Complexity Science) و الموجة الثالثة فى النمذجة الإجتماعية.
  • فى نهاية الندوة احسست اننا بدأنا فى الإقتراب من توضيح غايات النظام الإقتصادى المنشود و ان كنا نسعى إليه من خلفيات فكرية متباينة. ارجوا ان يستمر هذا الحوار و ان نستثمر فترة إعتصامنا المقبلة فى التوافق على هذه الغايات و لنفكر فى حلول مبتكرة لتحقيقها.
  • فى نهاية الندوة قمنا بمظاهرة رائعة من مسرح روابط إلى ميدان التحرير توحد فيها هتافنا و مشاعرنا.
06/30/11

Pain, confusion, and hope in Tahrir on the night of the 28th of June

Breakdown of trust, loss of faith, desperation, aggression, hope beyond reason, shock, pain, poss, suffering, and confusion. I was assaulted by a multitude of feeling as I was walking through Tahrir on the afternoon of June the 29th. I missed out on the battle of that raged during the night between the families of the martyrs and their supporters and the central security forces (CSF), who seemed engaged in taking out vengeance against the protesters. They CSF wanted to engage in petty payback for the setback in suffered exactly five months earlier. The video below details what has been going on.

The battle raged for over ten hours with plenty of rock throwing, teargas,  rubber bullets, and Molotov cocktails. Over one thousand protester were injured during the confrontations. The protesters were determined not the let the CSF have the upper hand. The would allow the CSF  scoring a victory over their ability to sit-in or express their grievances. For some background read this article from Time magazine, or the insightful perspective  by the accomplished  Egyptian writer Ahdaf Soueif. Official media in Egypt started to describe the protesters as thugs, agents of foreign powers, and even wilder conspiracies.    
A friend of mine who was in Tahrir that night wrote to me about his perplexity with what is going on and his the perspective he gets from being in Tahrir vs. the mainstream opinions and views :

I’m Really lost in the political opinions and the question that always come in mind “is this a revolution ? are we still in the revolutionary phase or is it time to keep going and start constructing and forsake justice and faith? Should we concentrate now on the economical state?”
I was in Tahrir June 28th I didn’t go for a specific demand, I was just driven by anger that the Central Security Forces are still treating protesters with same brutality as before.
I didn’t see any thugs, and when I came home and watch TV I kept wondering “Am I a thug ? Are we destroying the country unconsciously? Egypt on TV is so different than Egypt on Facebook than Egypt on Twitter Than Egypt on the street.

Information is so contradicting that it gets me to wonder if this was all wrong from the beginning! Or if our problem is deeper than a economical and political issues, a problem been forged in generations of cultural pollution and educational corruption, A problem that needs some sort or metaphysical higher power to do the solution for us, Should we forsake science and analysis because the problem is too hard to solve ?
I need your immediate opinion before I lose my mind!

My response was

I understand your confusion. Your situation must be aggravated by many of your friends and family casting doubt on your actions and portraying it in a totally different light.
The statement lets concentrate on X, is very silly and fallacious. It might work for one person. If X=economy and I was an economist, I would clearly know where my focus is. But if I was a student, what would “lets concentrate on the economy” mean (other than switching major)? It is quite absurd to suggest to a mother of a martyr that she should now concentrate on the economy, election, the constitution or whatever.

I follow a certain principle when trying to examine my actions. It can be expressed as follows “noble motives may give rise noble outcomes, but petty and base motives will almost certainly give rise to disastrous outcomes”. For me (and some might disagree), pure anger or hate is quite negative and pretty evil things can arise from them. However, if you were mainly in Tahrir to defend the families of the martyrs and fight against brutality, lies, and falsehood. That is pretty noble, that is something worthy dying for. The intention or motive is sometimes more important that the action itself.

I did not go out on June 28th (I really wanted to, but couldn’t), by many of my old Tahrir friends did. I respect and admire them for it, knowing what drove them to be there and their motives.
The revolution will not magically solve all the problems of Egypt in a blink of an eye. What are we fighting for then? If not a solution, then what? We are fighting for having a country that would be have enough room for all of us, whatever our social class, religious background, or political inclinations. In that society we will have the space and freedom to solve our problems, we will be able to dream of a better future and work hard to realize it. In order for us to create that free and open society there are certain prerequisites:

1. Justice (specially for those who died for that dream)
2. Transparency
3. Integrity (no lies)
4. A mechanism for collective problem solving (i.e. some form of democracy)

We seem to be losing on all those areas. If we can not satisfy those prerequisites we are are building a new Egypt based on lies and falsehood. It will be nothing more than the old rotten Egypt with a few label changes. The question regarding how do we realize those prerequisites is not a easy one to answer, and would require a lengthy discussion. Certainly we could use as much divine help as possible, but divine help only makes itself manifest when we purify ourselves and our intentions.

However a few things are certain and clear. When the families of the martyrs are ill treated or attacked, this is a clear travesty of justice and requires a serious stand and a loud response. When the police is brutal with your friends, you don’t abandon them for the comfort of your bed, but stand beside them and support them with your utmost ability. That is the decent thing to do.
Finally, we should never forsake science or analysis. We should try to use our knowledge to the best of our abilities. However, when doing so it is important to remind ourselves of the limitations of our analysis and the extent of there usefulness.

It is my view that sometimes it is better to simply stand for what you believe in and what your heart dictates than to engage in a calculus of power analysis. That is in some way a rational choice. For even when the odds seem stacked up against you and your loss seems certain, you make a clear choice that you prefer death, imprisonment, or injury than to live a life of fear,tyranny and oppression.

The revolution continues…

06/22/11

إنطبعات عن إلتقاء الطيورالثانى

إستمتعت بلقاء الطيور الثانى و إن كان قد اختلف فى المزاق عند اللقاء الأول. و هنا أود ان اوضح  ان هذه اللقاءات فى رأيى ما هى الا محاولات لإستحضار حالة فكرية  او استلهام روح معينة أحسسنا بها فى الميدان و ليس الهدف منها خلق توافق بشكل مباشر و الإتفاق على خطوات واضحة للتحرك الثورى او السياسى. هذه اللقاءات هى فرصة لتنشيط الوعى الجمعى و تحفيزه و ليس توجيهه بصورة مباشرة فى اى إتجاه. و يقوم بإدارة هذه العلمية علاء عبد الفتاح بقدر عال من الحرفية ممزوجة  بالديكاتورية المحمودة. 
افتقد هذا اللقاء الحميمية و التفاعل النشط الذى لمسته فى اللقاء الأول و ممكن تعليل ذلك لسييبن. أولاً: العدد المهول للحضور الذى تجاوز الطاقة الاستيعابية لمسرح روابط، ثانياً: الموضوع نفسه الذى تناول جهاد االنشطاء فى العشر سنين السابقة للثورة و هو موضوع -على جمالة و اهميته- لا يمثل قضية ملحة كما كان هو الحال فى اللقاء الأول. و أود هنا أن اسجل انطباعاتى:

  • كثير من المظاهرات الكبيرة منذ عام 2000 كانت تبدأ بإعتراض على أحداث فى محيطنا العربى وبالخاصة فلسطين و لكن سرعان ما كنت تتحول هذه المظاهرات إلى إنتقاد للنظام السياسى فى مصر
  • المظاهرات الحاشدة  ضد حرب العراق فى 20 مارس 2005 و الإحتكاك بقوات الأمن فى ذلك الوقت كانت اول تجربة عملية لكسر حاجز الخوف و إكشفت فيها الجماهير ان وجودها بكثافة يفقد الجهاز القمعى هيبته و انهم قادرون على “إمتلاك الشارع” و هذا بالرغم من ان   قوات الأمن قامت بإعتقال ما يقرب من 2000 متظاهر فى ذلك الوقت.   
  • الإنترنت لعبت دور مهم فى تنظيم النشطاء حتى قبل ظهور الشبكات الإجتماعية.
  • التعاون بين اليسار و الإخوان بدء فى الجامعات منذ 2005 و كان ضد سيطرة امن الدولة على الإنتخبات الطلابية. 
  • لعب الإعلام الحر (مثل قناة الجزيرة) دور مهم فى إلقاء الضوء على أحداث تم فيها كسر المحرمات السياسية، مثل المنادة بإسقاط النظام و تدمير صور حسنى مبارك فى المظاهرات العمالية.
  • نظاهرات المحلة فى فبراير 2008 و القمع الأمنى و شجاعة العمال فى ذلك الوقت جعلت وائل خليل و حسام الحملاوي مؤمنون بحتمية سقوط النظام.
  • النشطاء اليساريون كانوا فى الصفوف الأولى فى المظاهرات و الإحتجاجات و لكنهم لا يدعون القيادة. كانت الجماهير تتحرك بوعى و بتنظيم ذاتى اذهل وائل خليل و كأنها مستوعبة كل التراث البشرى عن الثورات و الإنقلابات الكبرى
  • يتفق النشطاء ان المظاهرات و الإحتجاجات قبل 2011 كانت لها دور مهم فى التمهيد للثورة. 
  • كثيرمن الحضور شعروا انهم لم تتاح لهم الفرصة لإبداء آراءهم و لهذا يجب ان نفكر فى ألية لجعل مشاركة الحضور اوسع فى الندوات القادمة و سوف اقوم بعمل تدوينة عن بعض الأفكار فى هذا المجال.