Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Lesson of the Day: Protest Works!

Elation is the only word to describe my feeling when I read the headline, "Mubarak's sons in 'total disbelief' as they are hauled into jail."  At long last, after two months of waiting, the process of holding the old regime to account for its crimes against Egyptians is properly underway.  That it should have taken quite so long simply to begin the interrogation of those who sat atop the pyramid of graft and corruption that was the Mubarak regime is testament to one of the foremost challenges Egypt faces: Overhauling not simply the personnel, but the entrenched interests and, indeed, the very structure of the old regime.  For make no mistake: The structures of power that kept Mubarak in power for thirty years remain in place to this day.

This is cause for alarm, but certainly not despair.  The most important lesson that, to my mind, we need to take from today's events is a profoundly hopeful one.  Protest works.  The pressure of the people works to effect change.  And it is only by keeping up that pressure that further change will occur.

I've stood accused of 'romanticizing' the revolution, in the face of those who feel that it is too soon even to use the word 'revolution' to describe what is transpiring in Egypt.  Surely it is as clear as day that, for the Egyptians who trek to Tahrir Square every Friday, this is a revolution... or, at the very least, a revolution in progress.  They know all too well how much there is left to accomplish.  They are not about to rest on their laurels.  Why?  Because they saw on February 11th, the day of the resignation, and they saw today, that protest works, that they are the very lynchpin of the revolution.  This is the lesson that the SCAF has sent Egyptians today, that the people of Egypt have power and can exercise that power to effect change.  And for that lesson, I am enormously grateful.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Where Is the Leadership?

"We express extreme grief and sadness over the fall of casualties but we urge the people to stay alert to the attempts to cause a rift between them and the military which supported their legitimate demands since the first day."  So read the statement issued by such luminaries as Essam El Erian, George Ishak, and Amr Hamzawy this past Saturday, after the violent and frankly disgraceful attempt to clear Tahrir Square of protesters that morning.  These men called on the military to "display self control while dealing with the youths whose enthusiasm may motivate them to take actions that cause unrest during this difficult time."

Sound familiar?  The words reek of the paternalism of the old regime, expressed time and time again during the days between the January 25th uprising and the February 11th resignation of 'Papa Mubarak.'  As if on cue, the former president subjected Egyptians to a further instance of this thinking over the weekend, courtesy of Al-Arabiya... but if ever there was a time when Egyptians needed reminding of why they revolted, it is now.  El Erian, Ishak, Hamzawy, and their colleagues behind the statement seem particularly in need of a refresher in the spirit of the revolution.

Was all of this effort expended and sacrifice made for a mere change in personnel?  To my mind, there could exist no greater insult to the martyrs of the revolution than to suggest that this was all about Mubarak.  I say 'no greater insult,' because clearly, as made all too evident by his pathetic claim that he will pursue libel suits against all who defame him, for Mubarak himself, this is all about Mubarak.  In Mubarak's mind, Egyptians proved themselves an undifferentiated mass of ingrates when they tossed him from office.

But who cares what Mubarak thinks?  What counts now are Mubarak's successors and their attitudes to the Egyptian people and their revolution.  The members of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces have made their stance plain enough, in trampling so frequently and wantonly on the spirit of peaceful protest inaugurated on January 25th, protest carried forward with such courage and devotion by ordinary Egyptians to this day.  On March 9th, I witnessed one of these insults to the revolutionary spirit myself, from a balcony overlooking Tahrir, when the Square was quite literally overrun by thugs working in collusion with the military.

The attack appeared brutal enough to a visitor to Cairo, but of course, we would soon discover the far worse brutalities, the insults to human dignity, that happened behind the scenes: the transformation of a monument to human civilization, the Egyptian Museum, into a torture chamber; the merciless beating of peaceful protesters, like the singer Ramy Essam; and perhaps worst of all, the imposition of 'virginity tests' on the women protesters.  Disgusting, outrageous, despicable... I lack the vocabulary to describe how the purported 'saviors' of Egypt treated ordinary Egyptians on that day.  The contrast between the protesters, who made their views known in the clear light of day and without malice, and the military, who resorted to the dark halls of the Museum to wreak their vengeance, could not be more stark.

So when looking for leadership, I have looked not to the SCAF, but to the civilians who are now angling for power in the forthcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.  Yet, there too, in the emergent post-revolutionary political class, there seems to exist only cowardice, as demonstrated by the refusal to mount even the most tepid critique of the military.

This charge may seem harsh, and I can imagine my critics alleging that I expect too much from civilian leadership while Egypt is still ruled by the military.  All I can say is that the ordinary Egyptians who return Friday after Friday to Tahrir Square to demand democracy and justice seem unafflicted by the cowardice that prevails in the emergent political class.  They seem able to speak truth to power in a way that ElBaradei, Moussa, El Erian, Ishak, and Hamzawy are not.  In outpacing their civilian 'leaders' in their calls for a 'new Egypt,' these ordinary Egyptians demonstrate that the revolutionary spirit thrives as never before.  They are the ones who give me hope.  They are my leaders.

Update:  Amr Hamzawy appears to have withdrawn his support from the statement and disassociated himself from the Egyptian Social Democratic Party.  Further details here.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Revolution Resources

My new website, 'Revolution Resources,' went live this morning.  You can access the site at...

The site began life as a page on my personal website for the benefit of my students and those of colleagues in Middle Eastern studies.  But the number of links became so unwieldy that I decided to set up a separate site, dedicated to collecting articles, documents, images, and videos of Egypt's January 25th Revolution.  Please don't hesitate to spread word of the site to all who may be interested, and if you have comments and/or suggestions, let me know!