Regroup Now!

We are under attack and our dreams are under siege. After a little over three months it is becoming deadly clear that certain forces are trying to outflank us, and they have already had some success. We must regroup now or all is lost and noble sentiments and aspirations that we experienced will be nothing more than a fading memory. The stuff of lamentations over what could have been and how we it let slip our grasp.

Some readers at this point might object: What are you whining about? Why this talk of gloom, conspiracy and dark forces? Shouldn’t we be focused on the upcoming parliamentary elections?

Let me first try to go over what we have managed to accomplish:

  1. We got most of Mubark’s coterie under detention and they are being tried for corruption
  2. Mubark, his sons, and wife are facing charges of corruption (though no criminal charges have been pressed yet). 
  3. We have temporary constitution that limits the power of the president, and the duration of his/her presidency (never mind that it gives the supreme councle of the armed forces [SCAF] unchecked power for the time being). 
  4. We have some sort of road map for democratic transition where we are having  parliamentary elections in September, followed by presidential elections six months later. 
  5. We have Prime Minster who supported the revolution, and who many still believe is genuinely a decent person (though many have doubts about his ability to assert the demands of the revolution). 

So why complain? Can’t we just hold-on for a few more months and get the representative parliament of our dreams and then a few more a get an elected president? The SCAF and government seem to be telling us to do just that. They don’t seem to like people expressing any sort of complaints or grievances. They even managed to pass an anti-protest law!!! Quite ironic, after a revolution. It all boils down to a crisis of trust.

Trust broken with a butt of a gun
In the early hours of the February the 26th, I stood with a couple of hundred revolutionaries in front of the People’s Assembly building. We were all gathered for sit-in, demanding that Shafik and his cabinet step-down. This was the same cabinet that Mubarak put in place in his last days and that the SCAF had kept for mysterious reasons. That night many of us were severely beaten, electrocuted, and subject all sorts of abuse. In one harrowing account of the torture that went on that night, it is clear that many in the army are still loyal to Mubarak. The army officers reveled in forcing the protesters to cry “long live Mubarak”. I was lucky to have escaped being captured, I was running and hiding in nearby streets.

The SCAF tried to deny any wrong doing and often declared that it never incarcerated any of the protesters. Their narrative does not hold much water, and runs counter to the many eye witness accounts. The SCAF has shown itself very trusting of the late regime’s corrupt figures. This was clearly  demonstrated in the appointment of the governors, many of who were from the minister of interior who were notorious for their involvement in torture cases, and others who have often spoken out vocally against the revolution.

The SCAF reputation now reeks of anything  to but trustworthiness. I firmly believe it becoming exceedingly hard to see them as honorable custodian of our revolution. Their decision making is opaque and their actions are far from comforting. It is very hard to explain how the army highly trained special forces were being used to hunt and incarcerate protesters while idling when churches were being burnt or peaceful  protesters were being shot at.

Why regroup, why a second Friday of Anger?
The SCAF has proven itself to be at best incompetent in helping achieve the demands of the revolution, and at worst having designs on post revolutionary political landscape to serve the best interests of the SCAF generals. The SCAF generals maintain massive economic interests and no civilian oversight. One can see that it would be hard for generals to abandon many of their perks for the greater interest of the country. I find it very suspicious that a supposed scholar like Moataz Abdel-Fattah tries to push forth the notion that SCAF is totally immune to ambitions of its generals and that there is something, that almost veers on the supernatural, the will make them the honest executors of the people’s will. Recalling the faces of the soldiers chasing in on February 26th and their determination to capture and torture makes me immune such flimsy (or more likely disingenuous)  arguments.

What do we do? Fire the SCAF?
The SCAF for all its sins still maintains a semblance of stability and yet we would never trade away our freedom and our revolution for this poor attempt at maintaining “order”. We are pressing forward demands that we hope will keep the SCAF straight, yet those demands are still being worked out, refined and crystallized.

Over the past few months a great deal of trust has been eroded and it is about time that SCAF pays attention to the revolutionaries and stop trying to undermine the spirit of the revolution.  I am looking forward to May27 where amongst a sea of competing memes, the best ones will dominate.

What does the situation look like now?
It is best captured in this brilliant graffiti by Ganzeer showing a taking facing of a bicycle. The revolutionaries are doing the difficult act of moving forward while balancing a bread tray over their head. The bread tray is future of Egypt. The tank (SCAF) seems to be standing in the way. Together we can force the tank to change direction, and we are far more powerful than what naive sizing up of strength may suggest.


The Dissipating Drag of History: Tahrir and Maspero

 The Palestinian problem is one that many Egyptians get very emotional about. The sense of historic injustice and the ambivalence with which the West and most of the world often seems to be dealing with it, makes it an open and festering sore in consciousness of most Arabs. However, it has repeatedly been used by the Egyptian government for more than fifty years to deflect attention from pressing national issues, while half-heartedly (or worse) pursuing a solution. I could not help but feel that the same dynamic was in play yesterday when I was walking through Tahrir.

The call for solidarity with the Palestinian intifada, is one that is bound to resonate with most Egyptians and revolutionaries in particular. The revolution was, to a great extent, about justice in the widest possible sense. The pain and indignities that Palestinians suffer presents a capital case for an injustice that has to be resolved. However, to have this issue trump pressing Egyptian pains and problems right now makes me quite suspicious of the motives of  those who are putting the Palestinian problem front and center.

The picture in Tahrir
There was a strong presence of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and they seem to have dominated many of the speaker stands. I could see many MB members with  green bandannas with their ominously distinctive logo  that juxtaposes swords and the Koran. The polemics that were echoing through the square went as far as calling for holy march to Jerusalem and had blatantly religious undertones. That did not feel like the Tahrir that I know and love.

There was something in the air the reeked of division and lack of focus. It seems to me that having a multi-themed demonstration at Tahrir is not a good idea. We need to restore our sense of focus. We have the following pressing issues:

  1. The pain of the Copts due the ugly events in Imbaba.  
  2. The illusive and faceless SCAF that seems to be writing the rules of the political game singlehandedly. 
  3. The detainees of the revolution. 
  4. The upcoming parliamentary elections that will define the constitution of Egypt. 

The MB seems to be wasting very little time with regards to the last issue. They are working actively to muster support and in campuses the are all out giving speeches about their outlook and their program. In Tahrir, I could not be help but feel that the MB are trying to distract the masses with Palestine while our Egyptian house is in a great deal of disarray. But, maybe it would unfair to blame it all on the  MB, I could see many holding up pictures of the late president Nasser who is famous calling for pan-Arab unity (as well as the eradication of Israel).

All was not doom, gloom and holy war in Tahrir. I has happy the see the El-Adl party organize a group based artwork on the dreams for Egypt. They fashioned an Egyptian flag out of bits of colored papers that many in Tahrir scribbled on their dreams for the country. The sense of humor was there in the form of creative placards.

Many also on Tahrir had there eyes clearly focused on national unity. However, they were a bit less visible and less vocal.

At Maspero
One can but only feel a palpable sense of pain at Maspero. As I walked into the sit-in area I had to pass through a checkpoint where they looked at my ID and conducted a pat-down search. The people at Maspero seemed nervously happy to have a Muslim amongst them. There many excited chanted call for a secular state, and also asserting pride in the Coptic identity.

While I could but not but help feel the deepest sympathy for their pain and plight, I suddenly grew very nostalgic to good old days in Tahrir when religious distinctions were of limited consequences as all Egyptian were clearly united. However, in many respects Maspero felt more like the old Tahrir, it was clean and had a clear focus. There were no street vendors and people were sharing food and water.

While I am not calling for abandoning the Palestinian cause or the dream of pan-Arabism, I believe that there is great loss of focus and we are being dragged by historical issues and all the pains they bring. We are not putting sufficient energy in dreaming about a brighter future for all Egyptians.


The Awakening

I hear an ancient echo from the deep.
“Arise right now! Do not sleep !
Till the earth and sow the ground
For what once was lost, has just been found!”

Whence such echo came?
Why does it now call my name?
Has it been heard before?
Will it be saying  more?

My heart now sings to a new tune.
My mind, for joy, is in a swoon.
But, what should I be doing now?
Unsure. I just repent and bow.

That ancient spirit will the show the way.
I am almost sure, I hope and pray.


On the Death of Terrorosity

No glory in slaying a monster you made
No joy! The debt of injustice shall be paid!
What justice and honor and values you state?
Feed anger with hate! Will hatred abate?
Celebrate, smile and self-congratulate!
Enjoy the night…
But when you wake: remember, it is not too late!

Update: This poem was significantly improved by the editorial input of Steve Smith of the Friam group.