Steps on the road to unity

During the last two days, I have had the opportunity to examine two groups that are concerned with building a consensus among the revolutionaries and spreading political awareness in all sectors of society. Both groups are working towards achieving the goals of the revolution which I understand to be something that is even greater and nobler than can be expressed in any set of demands. I will try here to shed some light on both groups and contrast their working styles.

The revolution youth union (اتحاد شباب الثورة)

This group is often confused with the popular coalition of the youth of the revolution (ائتلاف شباب الثورة). It does not really help that there are at least three other similar sounding groups that also claim to represent the demands of the youth.
In a meeting with Abdoulah Helmy, one of the founders, I learned that the union was formed after realizing that the coalition was a somewhat closed club that brings together a number of already well organized and well established political groups. Helmy, saw that there are many political groups outside of the coalition and a great deal of politically non-affiliated citizens that need to coordinate activities and work together towards a common goal. He started the union in Tahrir and got many thousands to signup to it. The union is amongst the groups that are frequently consulted by the supreme council of the armed forces (SCAF).
The union is a very open group and many of its members maintain other affiliations. They have a head start in trying to work towards and national dialog and to build consensus among members from a very broad ideological spectrum. Amongst their ranks are Salafis, Communists, Coptic extremest and everything in between. I was shown a draft of a set of political demands that they managed to get representatives from diverse groups to agree upon.
They want to act as a lobbying group that will throw its weight behind parliamentary or presidential candidates that adopt their demands. They build their power on an existing (and growing) network of members and affiliated groups. Their approach seems to be one that is focused on consensus building and quickly adapting to circumstances and the composition of their constituents.
The national front for justice and democracy (الجبهة القومية للعدالة و الديمقراطية)

The front seems to have started a bit later in the game, as their membership drive only started in full earnestness in last few weeks. Like the union they are an open group that seeks to build unity and a broad consensus. However, they are more focused on the majority the participants in the revolution who are not affiliated with any political group. One can clearly sense that the founders are justifiably concerned that existing political groups might try maximize their political gains while abandoning what they see as the core goals and aspirations of the revolution.

The front’s goals are:
  1. Establishing and protecting democracy
  2. Fighting corruption an demolishing its infrastructure
  3. Realizing Social Justice
  4. Influencing domestic policies and actively engaging in national dialog
  5. Working towards an independent foreign policy that truly represents the interests of the nation
  6. Acting as lobby to influence the outcome of elections
  7. Working towards national stability and security
The front have a well thought out internal organization and modus operandi.
Going forward

The existence of both the front and the union highlights that there is still something in the Egyptian Revolution that has yet to find a means of expression, something that needs to be established that none on the existing ideological factions can fully cater for.
The front’s emphasis on the political non-affiliated and “goals and principles” first approach to building unity is admirable. Equally admirable is that they seem to be more methodological in their outlook and purpose.
The union’s heroic efforts in getting ideologically opposing groups to agree on a set of concrete demands is pragmatic coup de grace against the division. The get things done by muddling through thorny issues and difficult events and one gets the impression that they are highly adaptable and initiative driven.
I hope that both the front and union would find areas where they could work together for greater effectiveness. Lets see if we can do battle with the counter revolution with a pincer maneuver.

Staring at Black Boxes

In a span of a week we have witnessed per-referendum agonies, post referendum joy (and depression), then we learned that the provisional constitution will be a mishmash of the amended articles we voted on and some bits and pieces for the old 1971 constitution. Lots of people are shaking their heads and saying, “what was it that I voted for?” More puzzling still is why didn’t we have a referendum on the provisional constitution instead of the amended articles. Is there foul play involved? Something smells!!!

Then came the trifling bit of news that Egypt has resumed pumping gas to Israel at the fantastically low prices that were “negotiated” by Mubarak cronies. What happened to our revolutionary prime minister? “Rome was not built in a day”, some may say, and they would follow it by “give the guy a chance”. So we forget about trifles and we move on. Then we hear that many protesters have been unfairly detained and some received absurd sentences for “thuggery”. We hear from reputable human rights organization that some female protesters have been subject to a disgustingly degrading treatment by the army. We try to reason that sometimes accidents happen and it will be a matter of time and everything will be resolved. We keep hearing “Rome was..” and we wait for some good news to arrive. But it does not !!!

We see the ministry of interior burning and we hear of assassination plans. We are clueless still, and just when we thought that things couldn’t get worse, we get a knockout. Our ministerial cabinet, upon which so much hope has been placed, decreed that hence forth all forms of “disruptive” protest are banned. If that was not disappointing enough, soon after we see a peaceful sit-in at Cairo University brutally disbanded, students detained (later released) and university professors verbally abused and then herded into armored vehicles (only to be released later).

After this emotional roller coaster we are left wondering: Who is pulling the strings? The prime minster? The Army? Some other “force of darkness”? People get very emotional about the Army, I find myself hearing:

The Army is good
The Army is bad
The Army is the best we ever had
The Army is both our mom and dad

But emotions aside we are determined to march forward. We will pry open or crush whatever black boxes we find on our way. Rome was not build in a day, but we will not stand idle while injustices are being perpetuated.

Tahrir! here we come again!


Holding on to the ephemeral

How tides of noble emotions have turned. Remember Tahrir, where all the masks fell, where labels disappeared, and where ideologies where naught. We cried together against tyranny and we were longing for … something.

Easy for some to call that something “freedom”. Some may even be presumptuous enough and say it was about specific fair demands. But that does not capture it, there was something more. Something too noble and delicate to describe. Something, that is to be felt, or maybe just whispered. Forgive me, for my powers of articulation fails me here. But that certain something was worth dying for. I may call it spirit of Jan 25, but that is just a label, it says nothing really.

I am holding to the memory of the noble gaze in the eyes of my fellow revolutionary. That certain respect and affection (still those words do not suffice). In that gaze I could clearly read that he/she would be happy to die for me. With that spirit nothing seemed impossible.

The greatest damage of the referendum was that it wounded that spirit. Now I look around me and I see leftist, liberals, salafis, copts, muslim brothers, and the ideologically unclassifiable. I see classes, different outlooks, drives, and goals. I wish we could have suspended all that just a bit longer. I wish we can do it again. That certain spirit needs to be invoked again while the memory of it is still fresh. That spirit needs a body though which it takes form in our life and heal the many wounds of division and separation in our land.

I long for a constitution that could be the embodiment of that spirit. It pains me to see many jockeying for position to promote their own ideological agendas.

Do you still remember that spirit? Do you want it to take form? Shall we try again to bring it about…together?


Voting "No" means action

I found many people voicing this concern:

The army has clearly defined what will happen when the people vote “yes”, but the consequences of voting “no” is left wide open. This is their way for pushing people to vote “yes”. Unless the consequences of voting “no” are as well defined, and supported by the army, “yes” seems to be the only viable option.

That is a good point and it is one that I worry about it also. Those who vote NO should work hard to formulate and plan on how to move forward.

However, the trouble with voting YES is that the next president will have the power to terminate the work of the constitutional framers, dissolve parliament, appoint a new ministerial cabinet and retain the fantastic powers he has according to the 1971 amended constitution. I was shocked that when I put that question to councilman Sobhy Saleh (on of the drafters of the the amendment) at seminar in Cairo University, that he could not give me a straight answer.

With the army playing now the role of the SS (very sad by true), and the SS itself recovering, I am really concerned about what is to become of our revolution if we were simply trust it to the army or the next president. I don’t want us to be in a position where the future of our nation solely depends on the honesty and good will of the next president.

A large demonstration like the one we had on Jan 28 was no picnic, and I wouldn’t want to repeat it unnecessarily because we are a bit worried about the ensuing uncertainty of a “NO”. I like this quote by Ghandi:

“A ‘No’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘Yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.”

This is why I am voting ‘NO” and will immediately start working on building societal dialog so that we can chart an honorable path out of the current situation.


What the Army thinks of Wednesday’s protesters.

I am totally disgusted by what happened to the peaceful protesters last Wednesday. Today in Tahrir I had a chat with some army officers and conscripts to see their take on things, here is what they said:
1. They genuinely think that those sitting-in were up to immoral acts. (not too surprising given their rural background where girls staying outside of their homes at late hours is strictly taboo).
2. They cited physical evidance of large quantities of condoms that were found in and around the sit-in site (impossible to believe, but it would not surprise me if someone planted them)
3. They also said some of the girls looked a bit funny and they couldn’t think they were decent (obviously not very used to unveiled women from an upper middle class background).
4. During the week, when they chatted up many who sitting-in they seemed to hold no coherent political demand.
5. They drew the conclusion that those were not “genuine” protesters, but a bunch of mindless rabble that are being controlled by “dark and evil” forces.
6. The “dark and evil” forces are working to split the country up along sectarian lines and also to cause the people to clash with the army.
7. Their policy with regards to the thugs is the put them in the “freezer”, i.e. given them a serious roughing up and beating.
8. They acknowledged that mistakes could be made and that they could inadvertently incarcerate innocent protesters in their pursuit of thugs.
9. They shared with me their frustration that those who are sitting-in in Tahrir are causing them undue pain and stress. They suffer from sleep deprivation and are very tense that something really nasty could happen as a result of the sit-in.
10. They mention the even of there were some honorable protesters in Tahrir, but they attracted many “unsavory” elements in their midst. They mentioned that the protesters handed over them a drug pusher at some point.
11. After several “battles” between the thugs and the protesters, they came to the conclusion that “enough is enough” and that they could on put with all the disturbance that is caused by those sitting-in and since they are primarily a mindless rabble, they should be forcibly removed.

I am not writing this to be an apologist for the army or to justify their action and methods in any way. I genuinely abhor torture of any kind. It is however very important for us to understand their motives. Some might see that their actions as part of a pattern of greater conspiracy against the revolution, I honestly can not tell. But one thing is for sure, we can not afford to antagonize the rank and file of the army. It was their sympathy for our cause that saved us during some of the darkest days of the revolution. I am not calling for an end for sit-ins or demonstrations, but we really have to think of ways of winning them over, their leadership and their conspiracies be damned.