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…


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. 


Banning protests and handling labor problems: an email to Dr. Sharaf

I sent this email to PM Sharaf on the 26th of March, 2011.  I have not heard back from him yet. 

Dear Dr. Sharaf,

I urge you to reconsider the law banning “disruptive” protests. This law has been a great disappointed to a many of your supports, myself included.

I understand the pressure that you are under and the difficulties of getting the economy back on its feet. However, there could be other ways of achieving that, rather than outlawing peaceful strikes and protests.

I suggest that you immediately form a directorate to investigate labor disputes. The directorate would receive complains and all supporting evidence to resolve issues of labor unrest.  It will have wide powers and will handle such issues as expeditiously  as possible. It will operate in transparent manner and its successes will be widely advertised. This will help restore confidence in the government.

Peaceful protests are a form of pressure release that should not be made unlawful. If such an outlet is blocked,  the risk of breakdown of public order is very real. We would want to avoid that at all costs.

I am very concerned about the Army being seen  as an instrument of repression. This portents of violent clashes between those with real and serious grievances  and the army. There is a growing perception that the army is no longer the guardian of the revolution, rather that it is there to extinguish its noble spirit. We do not want that perception to take root and spread. Having laws such as these, where the army is acting as the enforcer will make violent confrontations with the army inevitable.

Finally, I would like to emphasis that the wheels of justice should be seen as turning in the right direction even if slowly. I believe you will find that the people of Egypt are willing to be patient if they clearly see that progress is being made. This requires the successes, achievements, and reform plans be communicated often.

I pray that God will give the intuition and insight to do what is best for our land in these very difficult times.


إنطبعات عن إلتقاء الطيور الاول

بالأمس حضرت الندوة التى دعا إليها علاء عبد الفتاح للتوترجية (الناشطين المستخدمين لتويتر) التى حاولت ان نسلط بعض من الضوء عن تصور “الإسلاميين” عن السياسة و الحكم فى مصر. و كان هناك خمسة متحدثين رئسيين من شباب الإخوان، أربعة منهم أنفصلوا من الجماعة و الأخر مازال عضوا بها و ذلك بالإضافة للحضور الذى كانوا من الأطياف متعددة (سلفيين، لبراليين، يساريين، أناركيين، و غير محددى التوجه). 
و احب هنا ان اسجل بعض إنطبعاتى:
  • إدارة الحوار الرائعة التى قام بها علاء نجحت فى تقليل حدة التوتر و خلق مناخ فيه إستلهام لروح ميدان التحرير
  • الشباب الخمسة كانوا على درجة عاليه من التفتح و الصراحة و هذا و إن كان فى بعض الإحيان هجوم ضارى و إستنكار لمواقف قيادات الإسلاميين
  • وجدت نفسى معجب بكلام إبراهيم الهضيبى و تركيزه على أن الإسلام لا يمكن أن يتم رؤيته من خلال منظور إيديلوجى
  • الهضيبى إيضا قام بتوضيح ان الإخوان لا يمكن رؤينهم من خلال إطار فكرى متناسق و ذو إتجاه واحد خاصة فيما يتعلق بالحريات و علاقة الجماعة بالمجتمع. هناك أريعة تيارت فكرية داخل الجماعة الإن و هى: التيار التابع لفكر المؤسس حسن البنا، تيار يتبع أفكار سيد قضب، تيار سلفى، و تيار أزهرى (هذا هو الأقرب للهضيبى و يتميز بعدم إحادية الرؤية)
  • شهدت الندوى بعض التصادم الفكرى الغير عنيف خصوصاً عندما أعلن نعض من الإسلاميين عما يرونه كمسلمات لحل بعض القضايا الشائكة مثل الإحتكام برأى الجماعة و الأزهر الشريف
  • كان هناك توافق عام لكل من حضروا الندوة عن ضرورة العمل المشترك
  •  كان هناك تباين واضح فى أراء الأسلاميين فى موقفهم من الإمبريالية و التعامل مع الأخر غير الإسلامى
  • أثارت الندوة بعض الإشكاليات التى لم يتم التعرض لحلها بشكل مرضى، أهمها:
    • كيفية القيام بعمل توافق بين الحرية و الشريعة و ما هو مدلول “الحرية التى لا تعارض بينها و بين الشريعة”
    • ما هى الأليات التى ممكن ان تساعدنا فى بناء وطن يتسع لكل ابناءة على خلاف تواجهاتهم الفكرية او الإيديلوجية او الدينية. و لعل مقال علاء رؤية غير مكتملة الملامح على هذا الطريق
    • كيفية فض الإشتباك فى بعض النقاط التى يعلن الإسلاميين ان ليس هناك أي مساومة عليها
    • كيفية إعادة جو  الثقة على مستوى واسع (اكبر من حضور الندوة) و ذلك بعد ان اصبح هناك جوا من التوجس من الأخر مستشرى فى أطياف المجتمع المتعددة. 
  • تبين جلياً فى هذا الندوة انه عندما نتحدث بعضنا لبعض بعيدا عن خنادقنا الفكرية يمكن ان نخلق أرضية مشتركة للتوافق. التواصل على المستوى الإنسانى أهم من المبارزات الفكرية.  

The Revolution in Transition: The Main Players

I am not too happy writing is post, I am actually downright feeling guilty to have undertaken to do that. What I attempt to explore here is the balance of forces between the different players in post revolutionary Egypt. That would have been perfectly okay if not for the fact the many of those who once stood together at Tahrir are currently drawing ideological battle lines and staking their claims to future of Egypt. This sits in dark contrast with the days of unity and  the elation that we all felt in Tahrir as being all one. In those days there was something that bounded us that transcended any ideology.

I urge you to resist the temptation to  start rolling your eyes, thinking that the author of these lines is nothing but a weary revolutionary who has little understanding of the forces of history and natural propensity of humans adopt differing and often opposing ideological stances. In this post I am not calling for any form of ideological unity. I know this to would be difficult (if not impossible) to achieve and is not necessarily desirable. I attempt here to briefly present an idiosyncratic reading of all the current players and their possible strategies.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) 
The SCAF runs the Egyptian army with all its associated industrial and commercial interests, the primary concerns that drive their moves are:

  1. Insuring that SCAF members and their minions will not come under any public scrutiny with regards to their spending habits, benefits, profiteering, and relationship with Mubarak and his coterie. (Basic survival)
  2. Making sure that the emerging political landscape will not at any time run against (1), and hence their interest in having the a strong say in how the new constitution will get drafted and approved. (Medium term Survival)
  3. Maintaining a the popular perception that people and army’s leadership are one hand (Long term Survival). 
The SCAF will not have any designs on direct power if someone can do the job for them. It appears that they are willing to cut deals with whomever will assuage their concerns. The road-map that they have put forth for democratic transition appears serve well their survival interests. 
The Muslim Brotherhood (MB)
The MB is a very resilient organization that has managed to survive the political tumult of Egypt for over 82 years. They have grand pan-Islamic project that they have been unrelentingly trying to achieve in Egypt and elsewhere. Their leadership has often displayed some degree of political opportunism throughout their history. They were the King’s Men in the time of Farouk, they blessed the 1952 revolution, and they now seek favor with the SCAF by presenting themselves as well organized political block that the SCAF could do business with. They are now the SCAF’s loudest cheerleaders. The MB see themselves as having a significant competitive  advantage over all the other political forces that they would want to make the best use of that, before there edge becomes blunted. They seem to be working along following strategies:
  1. Making sure that nothing upsets they road-map that was put forth by SCAF as it best serves their interests.
  2. Building alliances with “Salfi” groups and using them at the front lines while presenting themselves as religious moderates
  3. Establishing good ties with the venerable Azhar university and gradually subsuming it ideologically. 
The prize of the MB is get to control the parliament following the election in September. It they succeed, they will draft a constitution to their liking and get to shape the future political landscape to their advantage. 
The Socialists 
Economic disfranchisement was one of the key catalysis the brought forth the revolution, but hearing the rhetoric of many leftists one might assume it was the singular motive force. The socialist seem to be standing quite divided and they seem to be engaged in internecine  ideological warfare. Although they very vocal about the rights of the downtrodden, they seem to have little to say about how can the economy can be shaped in a way that would make it globally competitive and attractive to investors. One can see little in terms of  strategy beyond dismantling the exploitative economic system that we have in inherited from the Mubarak era.. 
The Liberals 
Often Mubarak’s economic policy is labeled “liberal” and hence the word has become laden with negative connotations. To make matters worse Islamist  have often spewed vitriol by equating liberalism with  licentiousness and debauchery in their  sermons. Beyond their emphasis the basic civil rights, they have provided little in terms of coherent economic policies that would address the accumulated social injustices.   
The Ideologically Agnostic  (IA)
This group is the probably the largest constituency of those who participated in the revolution. They share common broad concerns about the country and they have yet to subscribe to any given political philosophy. The ElAdl party seem to particularly  cater  for this group, and also pressure group know as Djabha. Yet this group, like the liberals and the socialists  is still struggling to formulate a coherent political and economic plan. 
The energies of the Liberals, Socialists and the IA seems to be completely sapped in putting out fires like sectarian strife,  anti-protest laws, and human rights abuses. They are also trying to fight rhetoric levied against them by Islamist and an assortment of counter revolutionary groups.  
Where do we go from here?
Drafting a constitution involves a great deal of compromise where the point is to lay down  the essential principles of the relationship between citizens and the state and how societal self corrective forces work. It is hard, or nigh impossible to do that in an environment where the different players are focused of defining the battle line to gain advantage. An attitude of  beggaring thy ideological opponent is bound to spell  disaster. It is not clear how one can temper the lust for power of many of those groups. I only  hope the IA will grow quickly more organized and will rise above such petty ideological warfare. It is the only way I can think of for the spirit of the revolution to live just a bit longer to lay a new and fresh foundation for the second Egyptian republic.