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. 


Shadows of Democracy and Dissent

Freedom of expression is a the hallmark of a democratic society, and so is tolerance and the ability to live with multiple and somewhat incompatible views and beliefs.  All of this ideas were put to a serious test yesterday in Tahrir. I was happy that the day ended peaceful with no major incident given that there was an highly combustible  mix of people in the square having demands and view that are either tangential or standing in direct opposition.

Prelude to the Friday of “Unity”
The families of the protesters that had been brutally  murdered by the police during the early days of the revolution  have been calling for those responsible to be put on trial. The supreme council of the armed forces (SCAF) have been pussyfooting in making that happen, and hence many protesters gathered in solidarity with the families and started a sit-in on July 8.  They demanded first and foremost that fair and open trails must be conducted. They had several other demands that would insure that the path to democratic transition is less bumpy, such as stopping subjecting civilians to military trials where justice is handed out summarily with little or no rights for the accused.   From more on the rationale of the protesters, check out my earlier post.

“Islamic, Islamic, not secular or theocratic” the call says. It adds “Time to hear us roar”

Islamists on the other hand have been gathering forces for what they called “Islamic Identity Friday”. For reasons that remain unclear the Islamists are acting as if they are under serious threat from the liberals and secularist. Many amongst the protesters and several political parties called for calm to focus on the demands that would serve the interests of the revolution and  would not exacerbate  polarization. But that turned to be a pipe dream.

The Islamist did not honor their agreement and instead came out with demands at odds with those who were sitting-in. They stressed the need for the application of Sharia in their chants. The term itself does not mean much as there are many schools of thought around Sharia and it does not directly mean Saudi or Afghan style system of government and laws.  After I had a few chats with some of Islamist, I found that members of the Muslim brotherhood (MB) had a much clearer picture of what the state should like, they seemed to embrace the notions of democracy and pluralism. The Salfis (Wahabis  is a more appropriate term) has divergent views and some of them were uncomfortable with the notion that certain basic rights for citizens and protection of minorities must  be enshrined in the constitution. Salfis lacked clarity as to what system of government they  would espouse.

Salfi sign “No liberalism, No communism, No  Socialism, No Secularism, No pan Arab Nationalism”

The Islamist generally were engaged in a muscular show of force, there chants attitude and were somewhat disturbing. Some were waving Saudi flags, others were chanting “Behold Obama, the Square is now full of Osamas“. Instead of seeking to dismiss worries about them, they were engaged in confirming the worst fears of liberals and even the majority of Egyptians who do not subscribe to any particular ideology.  They wasted a fantastic opportunity to show their countrymen and the rest of the world that they are political force that are worthy of doing business with. The fact that they reneged on a promise and  presented a narrative that would alienate  most Egyptians, specially those who took part in the revolution, is bound to hurt them on the long term.

It was quite a peculiar scene to see that while the protesters who were at the sit-in were reeling against SCAF, the Islamists made  a point of showering the head of SCAF, Tantawi, with praise in their chant. One has to wonder when he sees Saudi flag waving, Bin Laden sympathizers, expressing there deep loyalty to SCAF. Either something is very wrong with SCAF, the Islamists, or probably both.

Whilst all of this was happening in Tahrir, Egypt’s spy chief  Murad Muwafi was meeting US vice president Hillary Clinton. Speculations were rife amongst protesters that the old Islamic boogeyman card was being played. It is either a SCAF autocracy or a fanatical terrorist harboring theocracy that comes to power and eliminates any hopes of a democracy.

SCAF riling up Islamists against protesters  (by Ahmed Nady) 

On the upside
Despite everything, there was an upside to all of this. I consider it very reassuring that both the Islamists and sit-in protesters managed not to be at each others throats for the duration of the day. The degree or restraint and self-control on both sides was impressive. Many of the Islamist seemed eager to listen, engage in dialog and to try to appreciate other opinions as well as articulating theirs. Despite very differing world views, dialog was possible. A society that had no public space or means of self-expression is going to take a while to overcome decades of fear and mistrust between its fragmented elements and establish some form of cohesion.

The cause of  justice for the martyred has not been served by all of this . (By Mostafa Gamal)

Ill will and garbage 
The Islamist left the square, leaving behind tonnes of trash and ill will. Many of the revolutionaries felt violated. I met quite a few who were in tears. Some told me “we did not fight and watch  our friends die so that fanatics would come and deny us our freedom”. Many were also deeply offended by what they saw the Islamists making themselves self appointed spokespersons for their religion. The chant “where is the media,  Islam is here!” was specially offending to many who have view of Islam and values that strongly diverged with those of the Islamists. The Islamists literally hijacked several of the secular stages for their purposes. They prevented Sufis from entering the square and called them infidels.
After they left there was a some rejoicing and singing and everybody in the square was chanting for civil and non theocratic state. However, we were breathing a heavy and depressing air. The  magic of the early days of the revolution where we showed a great deal of tolerances and genuine love for each other seems to be fading away. 


حصاد الجمعة فى التحرير يوم 29 يوليو

نزلت الميدان و كانت تجربة فى مجملها جيدة، سأتكلم فى هذه المدونة عما رأيته من سلبيات و إجابيات. 
  1. رأيت الإسلاميون و فى الأغلب السلفيون يقومون برفع شعارات غير توافقية و يخوضون فى هتافات أقرب لغزوة و كان المصرييون او باقى القوى السياسية تنادى بالفسوق و الكفر. هذا مع العلم انه كان هناك اتفاق على عمل سوياً على مطالب توافقية
  2. لم ارى اى من الإسلاميون يهتفون من اجل اى من المطالب التوافقية كمحاكمة رموز الفساد و قتلة المتظاهرون.
  3. انحصر الهتاف فى اغلب الأحوال ب”إسلامية إسلامية” و “الشعب يريد تطبيق شرع الله”.   كان اسلوبهم اقصائى و كأنهم يريدون ان يسأثروا بإرادة الشعب. و عند مناقشتهم فى كيف يمكن ان يكون هذا الكلام غير مقبول من إخوانهم الأقباط كانت الإجبات دائماً تتمحور حول حال المنقبات فى فرنسا و كان فهمهم للديقراطية ينحصر فى فرض رأى الأغلبية على الأقلية.
  4. فى نهاية النهار ترك الإسلاميون الميدان فى حالة يرثى لها من تكدس المخلفات و كأنهم يرون ان على المعتصمين القيام بأعمال النظافة من أجلهم و هذا التصرف بعيد كل البعد عن أخلاق الميدان. 
  5. كان القليل منهم يتدخل فى وسط بعض المحاولات للحوار بشكل عدائى و يكرثون روح الفرقة و الإستقطاب.
  6. للأسف فأن تصرفات كثيراً من الإسلاميين افقدتهم كثيراً ممن كان متبقى لدى ثوار التحرير من رصيدهم من أيام الإعتصام الأولى.
  1. كل من قابلتهم من الإخوان فى هذا اليوم كانوا على قدر عال من دماثة الخلق و حسن الحوار و كان الحديث معهم  هادئ سعياً لإيجاد ارضية مشتركة و توضيح وجة نظرهم بشكل رصين حتى فى حالة الإختلاف. 
  2. كثيراً من السلفيون كانوا متقبلين الرأى المخالف و إن كان حماسهم ذائد فى كثير من الإحيان لأرائهم يجعل الحوار صعباً بعض الشيئ. 
  3. كان هناك اقتناع  مع كثير ممن تحدثت معهم لفكرة عدم إقصاء اى فصيل سياسى او فكرى او دينى و كانت هناك قناعة بعد النقاش لكثير منهم ان هذا قد يؤدى الى كارثة.
  4. كان هناك تقبل لوجهة نظرى الموضحة ان الديمقراطية لا يمكن ان يتم إختزالها فى صنادية الإقتراع و لكن يجب ان يكون هناك نظام يحمى الإقلية من فرض رأى الأغلبية لتحقيق السلام الإجتماعى.
  5. كان هناك موافقة فى أغلب المناقشات على عدم وجوب إستئسار اى تيار بكتابة الدستور و لكن يجب ان تكون هناك الية لخلق التوافق حتى نشارك بعض فى وطن واحد.
  6. كان كثير من عقلاء السلفية و الإخوان يتدخلون اذا بدء الحوار يتحول إلى صياح و زعيق. 
  7. لقد سعدت كثيراً ان الروح السائدة كانت للجميع ان يتجنبوا الإحتكات الحادة حتى مع الإختلاف. و هذا امر مشجع لقابلية القيام بالحوار مع الإسلاميين فى المستقبل. 

عن النزول الى ميدان التحرير يوم الجمعة 29 يوليو

“انا نازل الميدان بكرة انشاء الله”
 عندما اقول هذه العبارة يستنكر كثير من معارفى تصرفى و يتم اتهامى  بالرومانسية المفرطة او السذاجة السياسية. و فى هذا المقال احاول ان اوضح موقفى من  هذ1ه الإتهامات و توضيح ما سوف اقوم به فى الغد. 

عن الرومانسية
هذا الإتهام صعب الرد عليه بصراحة. قد اكون كذلك فعلا فأنا ان لم يكن بى شيئ من قدرة للخروج من الواقع و محاولة تكوين واقع اجمل لما شاركت فى الثورة اصلاً. و فى مشاركتى فى ايام الثورة رايت اننا كمصريين عندنا القدرة الرائعة للتواصل مع بعض بشكل متحضر و راقى. هذا كان واقعاً أمامنا و لم يكن حلماً. فى ايام الثورة الأولى احببت الأخوان و السلفيون. نعم احببتهم بالرغم من انى لا انتمى لأى من هذه التيارات. احببت الذين تعاملت معهم و رأيت فيهم الجدعنة و كرم الأخلاق. احببتهم لأن يوم موقعة الجمل كنا واقفين مع بعض نحارب و ننضال و ندعوا تضرعاً  لله ان نصرنا. كل من وقف بجانبى هذا اليوم هو اخى و ان أختلفت معه فى الفكر و التوجهه الإيدليوجى. 
مازلت اؤمن اننا بالثورة. مازلت اؤمن اننا يمكنا ان نتواصل مع بعض بروح المحبة حتى لو إختلفنا و لم تنكن من نفس الخلفية الإجتماعية او الثقافية او الإيديلوجية او الدينية. ان كانت هذه رومانسية فانا رومنسى من الدرجة الأولى. 
عن السذاجة السياسية
هذا الإتهام اجد انه ليس فى محله. ادرك ان الحركات الإسلامية نازلة من اجل اجندة خاصة لها علاقة بالدستور و طبيعة الدولة فى المرحلة القادمة و انا اختلف معهم فى كثير مما يدعون اليه. و لكن هم قاموا اخيراً بإعلاء بعض المطالب التوافقية و هذا تصرف محترم من جانبهم و وجدنا انما يؤكد عليه. انفراد الميدان للحركات الإسلامية انما سيشجع على ابراز المطالب الخلافية و قد يجعل بعض السفهاء ينجرفون وراء محاولات لإستعراض العضلات و التنابز.  
ولكن ممكن ان يأتى فصيل منهم و يحاول اعلاء مطالب غير توافقية فماذا انا فاعل؟
 سأهتف بأعلى صوتى مطالباً بحقوق الشهداء و المحاكمات الناجزة
و لكن ماذا عن الخناقات و الأحتكاكات انا ارى الأن مطالب و يفط ترفع مطالبة بتحكيم الشريعة؟
اذا رأيت يافطة غير توافقية سوف احاول ان ادعول بالأدب ان تنزل و ان فشلت محاولاتى سأستعين بأصدقائى من سلافيو كوستا او اصدقائى من الأخوان ان كانوا موجيدين  الإصرار بأدب يجدى فى احيان كثيرة. سوف اعمل على تهدئة الجو. سألتزم الهدؤ ان قام اى طرف بالزعيق. كثير منا لا يدرك ان الزعيق المتبادل لا يجدى و الأفضل عندما تتدهو المناقشة للزعيق هو الإنسحاب. 
ولكن فيه ناس عيزنها تبقى معركة و سيحاولون ان يقلب الميدان إلى حلبة صراع بين القوى الليبرالية و الإسلامية
سأعمل ضد هؤلاء بكل ما اوتيت من قوة و حكمة و هذا هو دورى الرئيسى فى هذا اليوم. سأدعوا للسلام و التألف بين المتخاصمين. سأحراب روح الإستقطاب بداخلى قدر المستطاع. سأحول ان ارى من هم امامى كبشر و شحصيات مصرية جديرة بالفهم و المعرفة سأحاول ان اتواصل معهم بدون ان احكم عليهم من خلال افكار مسبقة عن التيارات التى ينتمون اليها و مواقف قادتها. و ان استفزونى سأحاول ان اتذكر كيف كان كثير منهم واقف بجانبى فى أحلك اوقات الثورة وسأجاهد نفسى ان يتسع صدرى لهم بناء على ذلك. 
فى النهاية ان اتطلع بصدق لرؤية كثير من اخوانى السلفين و الأخوان ممن كانوا معى فى اول 18 يوم من الثورة. اهلا بهم فى الميدان و أمل ان نكمل معاً  النضال سوياً. 

Politics vs. Protests: The Egyptian Revolution in Crisis

I write this post to try to clarify a few points with regards to the situation in Egypt and process of the democratic transition.  This has been spurred by requests form my English speaking friends who are trying to keep up with unfolding events in Egypt and my general dissatisfaction with the reporting of current events in Egypt, such as this WJS article.

Is the Revolution over?
If you were to believe the supreme council of the armed forces (SCAF) and a great many of those who have not been talking to revolutionaries and watching too much state television, it is very much over. We have entered a new phase of democratic transition. Here is what they say has been achieved:
  1. A referendum where SCAF has proposed constitutional amendments that implied some process of handing over power to civilian control and some vague process for drafting a new constitution once a new parliament has been elected. 
  2. A brand new council of ministers that is headed by a prime minister who was known to have taken part of part in the revolution. 
  3. Members of the Coalition of the Youth of the Revolution acting as advisers of the prime minister. 
  4. Parliamentary elections coming up in couple of month.
  5. SCAF is even giving financial aid to you new parties to cover some of expenses of registration and making the legal mandatory newspaper announcements. 
So why complain? and why take to the street and protest? The logic goes, SCAF is not perfect, but they seem to be doing the best they can. The country needs stability more than anything else. The economy is in tatters and investor confidence is low. Protests are disruptive and slow down the wheel of production.   
The old mechanism of electoral corruption are still in place (by Carlos Latuff).

These points is not held by the protesters, and here is how they might respond:

  1. Referendum: there is a great deal of confusion as to what is was really about. We thought we voting for a amendment to the existing constitution, but SCAF trashed the old constitution and gave us a provisional one that gives it unrestricted powers and no accountability whatsoever. SCAF also sees that the passing of the referendum means that they people of Egypt gave it a carte blanche to run the country (that was not in any of the amended articles!). Interestingly enough the Islamist see the referendum as a vote that affirms that the people of Egypt want their future state to be an Islamic one and not secular. Although the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and the Salafis (Wahabis is more apt description) have very incompatible ideas of what that might mean. 
  2. The prime minister and the his council have very limited powers and SCAF calls all the shots via the powers that they have  granted themselves in the provisional constitution. The prime minster and the council  act as shock absorbers for SCAF, taking the blame whenever it is convenient. Such a tactic has all the hallmarks Mubarak era style of governance. We have a very peculiar situation where the prime minster reports of the minster of defense and not vice versa. 
  3. The youth coalition have been castrated since they held offices in power and have been quickly loosing whatever support they held in the ranks of the protesters due to their neutral or their lukewarm attitudes on several issues that are key to the protesters demands. Their eroding power base and the proliferation of hundreds of  coalitions, many of them from the youth of Mubarak’s now banned national democratic party,  have made them completely ineffective. 
  4. The governing laws for the parliamentary election have yet be finalized, and there are doubts about whether the elections will be truly fair. SCAF have objected to international observers and the old corrupt police force is what used to turn a blind eyes to fraud during election has not undergone significant reform. 
  5. Parties that are hungry for power have been taking a somewhat comprising in there stance  vis-a-vie SCAF so as not to fall out of favor before the ultimate ruler.  
Hence presenting the false dichotomy of the politics in direct opposition to the protests, and favoring the former for the sake of stability will not sell amongst the protesters.

What about the “backlash” against the protests?
SCAF has tightened its grip on the media. We now have a a minster of information (disinformation) whose sole purpose is mobilize state media to present SCAF message. That message has been one of fear and panic. Fear about the economy and stability, and panic that there are some dark foreign forces that are now meddling in our affairs.

SCAF hypnotizing the populace into believing that revolutionaries are traitors (by Carlos Latuff).

Recently SCAF has accused the April 6 Youth movement that they are being funded by foreign and nefarious powers. The movement has played key role in keeping the uprising non-violent and is the largest secular block of all the organized movements with the revolution. SCAF seems however to maintain a very good relationship with the Islamist. Speculation has been rife in the ranks of Tahrir protesters the  Islamist must have cut a sweet deal with SCAF. The accusation has been made without evidence. Recently  in an TV interview with a SCAF representative, the talk show host started to ask few hard questions with regards to evidence.  The SCAF man was clearly unconformable with her “audacious” grilling. She lost her job as a result.

Talk show host Dina Abdel Rahman fired for questioning SCAF (by Carlos Latuff).

A few days ago protester were met by a violent “backlash” on their peaceful march to the ministry of defense to press forth their demands. Such a backlash came primarily as the result of SCAF or its agents spreading rumors the the protesters were on their way to burn down the ministry of defense and start up a fight with army. It is telling a few hours prior to the march that  Major General Hassan Al-Ruweiny we on TV hurling further accusations at the April 6 movement and condemning the march as the work of saboteurs who care nothing for the greater good of Egypt. He also said there could be many how are innocent amongst the marchers who are victims of “disinformation”. Interestingly he bragged about how used to manipulate the protesters in  Tahrir during the first 18 days of the revolution by spreading rumors. One can only wonder if he was behind the rumors in Abbaseya where the clash happened.

Cowardly assault on protesters in Abbaseya (by Carlos Latuff).

But what do the protesters want?

There are a number of demands and concerns, but the most pressing concern has to do with the families of the martyrs of the revolution and the injured. The families have been subject to threats and pressure from the Police to drop their charges levied against their killers. They have been offered blood money, and if they refuse they were subject unbearable harassment. Similar pressure was also applied to those who were injured during the revolution. 

The revolution grows forth from the blood of the martyrs (from a mural in Tahrir).

The ministry of interior (MOI) in engaged in propaganda to project the view that the deaths were either accidental or (preposterously) the work of foreign snipers. This runs contrary to video footage showing the snipers perched on top on the ministry and  during the early days of the revolution.

“Snipers!!! Where?” the minster of interior declares (by Carlos Latuff).  

The families of the martyrs form and core around which protesters gather. They want the killers to be put on trial immediately along those  higher-ups who are gave the orders. The demands that the officers who carried out the shooting, the minster of interior at the time, and Mubarak be put on trial immediately. There have been many rescheduled sessions already that most protesters are certain that foul play is involved. SCAF declares that it is not their fault, the wheels of justice just happen to be slow at times and this is the responsibility of the judiciary. We know that the judiciary does not enjoy much independence there is no clear separation of powers yet.

SCAF is molesting Lady Justice (by Ahmed Nady).

Those who are protesters will not end their sit-in in Tahrir until they see the wheels of justice turning and they are stratified that it is doing so in the right direction. There is a very serious concern that if SCAF keeps on ignoring such basic demands for justice that things take a violent turn as the ominous graffiti below suggests.

We will avenge ourselves SCAF! (photo by Lilian Wady)