We have your best interests at heart

The streets are emptied, it would seem. After last night, mostly-Coptic Christian protestors in front of the TV Building in Maspero Square demonstrating against sectarianism and unfair treatment of Copts have cleared out. Some of their demands were indeed met, and it appears that the Army High Council met with several representatives of the Church and protests who agreed to disband the sit-in. However, others wanted to stay and many who expressed this intent were beaten by military police and forced to leave (reportedly over 200). Rumors circulating about this say that the Army wanted the protestors out before Hillary Clinton’s visit to Egypt, among other things.

With the Maspero sit in rather unceremoniously over, the Army has won a bloody victory in its efforts to quiet the country down, pretend the revolution is over and pave the way for what limited reforms it plans to dole out. And while some labor and student protests remain (despite similar attempts to break them up with force), for now at least the more holistic, civil protests have been quashed. This blog has discussed before not only the nastiness of the Egyptian Army’s true colors, but also the means by which established political forces have consistently attempted to turn this revolution into a question of piecemeal and meager political reform.  Clearing the streets of protests, by force more often than by acquiescence of the protestors, is a continuation of this tactic, as the army knows well that people in the streets, participating freely and directly in democracy and political life, will not make the sort of compromises to half measures or quiet quietly accept empty promises.

Generally, as well, it has been as disheartening as it has been bewildering to see politics, having exploded into its full potential in Tahrir, slowly cornered and dragged back into the garishly-appointed drawing rooms of Old Egypt, complete with that ridiculous gold-leafed French Imperial reproduction furniture that every Egyptian knows all too well. Outside of the “Coalition of the Youth of the January 25th Revolution” a group largely around to provide legitimacy for meetings it would seem, Egyptian politics is quickly falling exactly into the old patterns. What I mean by this is not even a commentary on the types of issues being contemplated or the progress made on the revolution’s demands (which are another contested issue, to be sure), but more subtly and perhaps more troublingly, we have moved back from street politics to drawing room reform, as the appointed old men discuss what they plan to give us.

Once again we find ourselves stuck in the position of reacting to the middling, managerial proposals and policies of what is ultimately the exact same patronizing political class of old. One of the biggest issues here is that their halfhearted dilutions of the revolutions aims, when augmented by drummed-up hysteria and paranoid urgency in the media, actually manage to garner some support, causing rifts and entrenching their own consolidation of power. The coming referendum on the constitutional amendments, discussed in the previous post, is a fine example of this; where before the question of a new constitution seemed necessary, the offering of a supposed quick fix to the existing document now finds a measure of buy-in.

Besides the fact that these amendments are no way forward (even many of the supporters of the referendum only agree with it in the hope that it would speed transition to civilian government, not for its content), it is ultimately sad insofar as it is limiting the options of the Egyptian people to a menu of choices put forward by the army and a limited set in the political establishment. This false constriction of options and false dichotomy that it creates—either yes to the referendum or extend the uncertainty of the transition—is itself a betrayal of the spirit and content of this revolution. People did not willingly risk and give their lives in this revolution simply for the ability to vote on what compromises they would have to make, they did these things that they could craft their own destinies outside of the feeble interpretations of these “wise men”.

Having people in the streets, occupying, camping and demonstrating, was a perpetual reminder to the Egyptian people of the possibility of the impossible, of their right to frame their demands not in terms of what the army or a group of wizened politicians might propose or agree to, but to the full extent of their collective imaginations. The downfall of Mubarak was not brought about through negotiation, the exposure of the brutality of State Security did not happen through deliberation, the rebuilding of destroyed Churches did not happen through the benevolence of the army, and the formation of an independent trade union federation was not an enlightened initiative of the state. All of these actions, and all the goals and real changes brought about to date by the revolution have been deeply connected to an immanent, immediate politics of the street whereby ordinary people remade the world in the image of their hearts’ desires.

UPDATE: Protestors reassembling in front of Maspero Square have been once again beaten by army and military police, stun batons have been used, and protestors including women have been taken into the TV building with reports of more abuse within. Same shit from the army, different day.

source: We have your best interests at heart |


Plebiscites and Parasites

The upcoming referendum on the proposed amendments to the Egyptian constitution, scheduled March 19th, gives people a sense that the revolutionary process is reaching its end. The limited scope of the amendments, the majority dealing with electoral matters (such as presidential term limits, reduced length of the president’s term, judicial oversight of elections…), imply that the 11 men of the amendment drafting committee were not attempting to upend the existing order, but were attempting to establish a legal framework for the transition from Mubarak’s rule.

Yet, over the last few days, the legal community – including human rights lawyers, law professors and lawyers in general practice – has begun to coalesce around a consensus in favor of completely rewriting the constitution as the necessary next step in the political process. Many legal professionals believe that the amendments represent a dangerous step backward. As a result, many in the legal community have begun to organize a call for the referendum to be scrapped and/or for people to cast a “no” vote in protest to the entire process.

There are several principal complaints about these constitutional amendments, but the most significant is directed at the amended version of article 189 and the implications of the process it creates. The amendment calls for “A Constituent Assembly of 100 members, to be elected by the majority of the two houses of a joint meeting of parliament, to undertake outlining the new constitution during a period of time not more than six months from the time of its formation.”

The natural question on everyone’s mind regards who will make up the majority of the two houses of a joint meeting of parliament. Many political analysts predict that the remnants of the formerly ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) and the Muslim Brotherhood, together, will end up taking a majority of the seats in parliament by virtue of their being the two most organized political forces in the country. This sets up a situation where these two conservative political factions can create a coalition and essentially write their own constitution.

The general presumption in the western practice of constitutional law is that a body created to write a new constitution must be widely inclusive or it will be seen as illegitimate by the people. Similarly, many Egyptian legal analysts are extremely skeptical of the lack of an open and representative process for writing a new constitution. With so much blood and hope put in to the revolution, many people don’t want to take any chances that the constitution will be hijacked by a conservative majority, leaving other political forces locked out of the process. But, with so little time between now and the referendum, it is unlikely that an organized campaign to defeat the referendum can emerge.

This situation is particularly dangerous considering the current state of constitutional law in Egypt. The legal status of the military’s assumption of power after Mubarak’s resignation has been skeptically viewed by many lawyers. Further, one of the first acts of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces was to suspend the constitution upon taking power. As a result, there has been a constitutional crisis in Egypt since Mubarak resigned.

In strictly legal terms, some scholars argue that the military engineered a coup that invalidated the constitution when it took power upon Mubarak’s resignation. Others say that progress towards stability should move forward under a presumption that the constitution is still in place. Views, such as that of Tahani al-Gebali, Egypt’s first female judge and vice president of the Supreme Constitutional Court, express the legal trouble at issue. She argues that passage of the constitutional amendments could override the suspension of the old constitution and legally block the military from a legitimate decision making role in the country’s political process, invalidating their call for presidential and parliamentary elections.

Alternatively, the Muslim Brotherhood is predictably calling for a “yes” vote on the amendments and is already making plans for their own emergence as a major political force. The prominence of Brotherhood members on the amendment drafting committee only reinforces the skepticism of the left in the honesty of this whole process. Looking down the road at a potential NDP and Brotherhood dominated constitutional committee gives many people reason to smell a conspiracy with the army.

This interplay of law, politics and power is probably the fundamental issue regarding the future of the revolution. Egypt’s current lack of adherence to legal and constitutional norms provides ample opportunity to manipulate the process while reducing the ability to challenge abuses. The ability of the Egyptian public to influence the course of these challenges will continue to evolve as the process continues.

The army is forcing us into a premature yes/no decision that is being mulled by all of us in Egypt. As everything the past few weeks where the army is involved, the consequences are yet uncertain.

source: Plebiscites and Parasites |


Recent History Repeated

Yesterday, without warning, Tahrir square was stormed by a hundred or so soldiers who swarmed towards the encampment in the square’s middle, closely followed by a crowd of perhaps a thousand plain-clothes cops/thugs/citizens—who knows anymore. They beat peaceful protestors, destroyed tents and then—once the majority had either fled or been arrested and dragged into the Egyptian Museum compound opposite the square—destroyed the memorial raised for the martyrs of the revolution.

By roughly 9 P.M. we had gathered some of the names of those detained and received eye-witness reports that those inside the Museum numbered around 150, being forced to lie face down on the ground while they were whipped, shocked with stun batons and beaten.

This day of army-led violence happens in the midst of numerous shootings of Christians protesting their unequal and unfair treatment as minorities and the burning of a church a few days ago just outside Cairo. Thugs were present at these attacks as well. The Christians’ calls for dignity and equal treatment under law and in society were met with bullets and other violence. Many reports from the protestors confirm that the dead were shot by the army.

As this was occurring in different parts of Cairo, a demonstration of women in Tahrir Square celebrating International Women’s Day and promoting the cause of civil rights for women in the “New Egypt” was also beset upon by thugs. Women and men standing in solidarity with them were sexually harassed (verbally and physically), heckled and ultimately attacked by thugs as the army stood aside. Calls for help and protection from women being attacked were met by casual shrugs from military police.

More aggression took place outside the interior ministry on Sunday. Protestors, seeking to search the interior ministry for prisoners and evidence of state-led violence were greeted by a salvo of shots above their heads by the army, then a rushing onslaught of plainclothes cops/thugs/citizens throwing rocks, bottles and brandishing swords and machetes.

A new pattern seems to have been established in recent days combining the reckless violence of plainclothes thugs with the systematic attacks, detentions and torture by the army and military police. The coincidence of these two aggressors is too common to suggest anything other than complicity.

The testimony of one of those held last night is below. Others face years in prison after being rushed through kangaroo-court military tribunals for vague and trumped up claims of thuggery and violence.

Testimony of Rami Essam on what happened to him yesterday on the hands of the Egyptian army:

A lot of protesters are still under arrest in a military prison pending court-martial. Their photos are being displayed on TV as “thugs arrested” in Tahrir Square. State TV is trying to portray the arrested protesters as thugs, and by this distort the public opinion and take advantage while they continue to torture the detainees. Please spread and share this news (email this to your local media and to human rights organizations)

For those who don´t know Rami Essam, remember this video? It is of him in the first days of the Egyptian Revolution, singing in Tahrir Square. How can this young man who was nicknamed “the singer of the revolution” by the Tahrir Square protesters be a “thug” attacking people as the army and state TV claim?

Video of Song

“My name is Rami Issam, I´m 23 years old. I was in Tahrir Square with the rest of the people on Wednesday, March 9th 2011. At approximately 5:30 pm we were suddenly attacked by the military and a large group of civilians armed with sticks, batons and bricks. Together they destroyed the tents, tore the banners, beat everybody who was in the middle of the square and started arresting people. A group of soldiers dragged me towards the museum´s building and handed me to army officers who tied my hands and legs up and started kicking me all over my body and face. Then they started hitting me on my back and legs with sticks, metal bars, wires, and hoses. After that they brought the electric taser that was used in demonstrations before and used it on various parts of my body, then they started using more than one taser at the same time. The officers insulted me and stomped with their feet, jumped over my back and face, and threw shoes in my face. Then they cut my hair (it was long) and put my face in the dirt before burying my body neck down.

His video testimony is being edited and will be posted soon as will a more in depth analysis of the recent state (read army) led violence.



source: Recent History Repeated |


The Post-Revolutionary Road

After eighteen days of a peaceful, democratic, participatory Revolution, President Hosni Mubarak fled Cairo – and left us, the people of Egypt, to begin fixing our country. On Friday night – one month on from that first, astonishing Tuesday – the Army entered Tahrir square wearing balaclavas and wielding machine guns, batons and tasers.

The next few months will decide whether or not the Egyptian Revolution takes its place among the great, transformational moments in history. Or if it joins the list of ever heavier disappointments weighing down on the land. We made a city square powerful enough to remove a dictator. Now we must re-make a nation to lead others on the road to global equality and justice.

We showed ourselves, and the world, something no-one had ever seen before, and we need to use it. We have a responsibility, to those who died, to those now living with hope, to get this right.

Tahrir Square worked. It worked because it was inclusive – with every type of Egyptian represented equally. It worked because it was inventive – from the creation of electric and sanitation infrastructure to the daily arrival of new chants and banners.  It worked because it was open-source and participatory – so it was unkillable and incorruptible. It worked because it was modern – online communication baffled the government while allowing the revolutionaries to organize efficiently and quickly. It worked because it was peaceful – the first chant that went up when under attack, was always selmeyya!peaceful!. It worked because it was just – not a single attacking paramilitary thug was killed, they were all arrested. It worked because it was communal – everyone in there, to a greater or lesser extent, was putting the good of the people before the individual. It worked because it was unified and focussed – Mubarak’s departure was an unbreakable bond. It worked because everyone believed in it.

Inclusive, inventive, open-source, modern, peaceful, just, communal, unified and focussed. A set of ideals on which to build a national politics. A set of ideals to hold on to.

But what exactly are we building?

The Army recently announced eight reforms to the Constitution. But how can you legitimately reform a Constitution when the Prime Minister was put in place by the deposed President, when Parliament is suspended? The Constitution is fast becoming a focal point of the transition, but the transition needs to be about so much more. The millions of people who filled Tahrir were not risking their lives to trying to fix a rotten system, they wanted to build a new country, and still do.

So before we race to build our new country in the shadow of out-dated and fallible Euro-American democratic systems, let us learn from Tahrir Square.

The Revolution is creative, and now we need to create the system that works best for us. We need to consider if political parties are the right tool for the rhythm of Egypt’s politics. Do we need political parties, when skilled individuals can clearly pull together for a collective cause? People are scrambling to try and put parties together. But putting together a political party with a national reach by September requires an incredible amount of resources, and so is both exclusive and a fortification of the economic structure of Old Egypt. A political party, by default, is full of politicians. But if we can take it as a given that the Minister of Defence will be appointed by the Army, can it not also be guaranteed that Ministers be experts in their field with proven track records? Why has being a party member, in some Western democracies, become sufficient qualification to oversee the needs of a nation?

Western party-politics turns on the right-wing/left-wing politico-economic line. In the West, it is the push and pull between Socialism and Capitalism, between tradition and modernity that sets the political rhythm, but those tensions are not as keenly felt in Egypt. In Egypt, global Capitalism arrived as a top-down phenomenon that has been disastrous for the majority of the population, with food prices and unemployment soaring over the last decade while the new ultra-rich built villas in the desert. A communalist socialism is the more natural mode of the country, while tradition and the push for modernity are woven together more comfortably – cross-communication between generations, time spent at home, with family, with one’s grandparents is a fixture in Egypt but an increasing irregularity in the West, where each generation seeks to actively break with its antecedent in the name of fashion and progress.

Egyptian politics does not turn along the same axes as the West’s. Egypt has its own tensions and frictions – but if allowed and encouraged to steer its own course, these issues will be worked out in a way that is right for Egypt and, ultimately, for the world.

The Egyptian Revolution is leaderless and open-source and inclusive, and we saw in Tahrir that if people feel involved in the running of their own lives, if their sphere of control is expanded beyond their own body, if they are empowered, then the country will reap dividends. To that end, we need to decentralize administration and decision-making. Cairo cannot continue as the suffocating home of 20m people and as the heart of all political decision-making. We need to localize and communalize politics wherever possible. Create smaller, community groups, organized within the 27 governorates; devolve as many decisions to as local a level as possible with access, accountability and transparency for the populace.

The Revolution is unified and focussed. Though power and decision-making should be de-centralized, there is also now a need for unity of national cause and ambition. Egypt has always rallied around great national projects, from the Pyramids to the High Dam. It is time to utilize that which we have most of – the sun.

Inclusive, inventive, open-source, modern, peaceful, just, communal, unified and focussed. The Revolution is many things, and it is clearly far from over. Through continued peaceful protest, through the brave insistence of the women and men still sleeping in Tahrir Square the people are insisting on pushing through not just reform, but on building a new country.

There are not many governments in the world that wanted this to happen. But if we use what we all taught each other over those 18 days, if Tahrir is kept alive, then surely nothing can stop us.


source: The Post-Revolutionary Road |


The Two ‘Youths’ of the Revolution


The Arabic word shabab, meaning ‘youth’, has been used quite a lot since January 25th. It’s an important lens for understanding many of the events that have taken place thus far in the revolution just as it seems to be an integrated part of the rhetoric of the counterrevolution.

When protesters took to the streets on January 25th, it is no doubt true that many of them were youths, particularly on that first day. Not exclusively, but to a large degree these people were younger, many of them unemployed – even those with advanced degrees – and alienated from the political destiny of their country. Egypt had produced a ‘lost generation,’ with those in their teens, twenties and early thirties coming into a world still controlled by the violent clutches of an older generation whose few opportunities for work (not to think of advancement even) were held on to by those already connected, older or entrenched in the politics of the past. However, thinking about the course taken and plotted by these power elites, there seems little doubt that this was less a lost generation than the first generation of a future lost or pre-emptively destroyed in toto by the ruthless desire of those in power to maintain their status unto death.

In either case or for any other of myriad possible reasons, it seemed at least fitting that youth would come out to protest in numbers. Among the chants by protesters throughout the first weeks of occupations, you were likely to hear “Neither Brotherhood, Nor [Political] Parties, Our revolution is a revolution of youth” or similar calls asserting the presence of shabab atthawra, “the youth of the revolution.” Indeed, people both inside and outside the square would talk excitedly about these youth, thanking them for their role in organizing and demonstrating, a role which they did have a significant hand in through hard work and commitment – not just social networking sites and other tech-booster-fodder.

As we know or at least should know by now, however, this revolution captured literally every aspect of Egyptian society across age, class, gender, religious, labor and other lines. It is thus all the more striking how the emphasis has remained so squarely on shabab atthawra (or worse, even, shabab facebook). Particularly out of the state media, even in its newly “reformed” trappings, one might be under the impression that this revolution took place only at the hands of a few middle class kids with grievances and not the whole of Egyptian society. This seeming exuberance and thanks must absolutely be seen as a tactic to infantilize, diminish and patronize the revolution and the many goals of the varied, diverse revolutionaries involved in it.

By relegating this revolution to a youth movement in the abstract, the state media and other counterrevolutionary organs have sought to silence claims not arising directly out of those youth movements, particularly the demands of labor, the poor and the marginalized. They have thus attempted to regain control over political decision making power, arguing that the reform process is better placed in the hands of those with experience. The most recent message of the High Council of Armed Forces, no. 24, begins its first sentence with the phrase “The HCAF assures its children, the youth of the January 25th revolution…” Now, if ever one needed proof of a paternalistic and belittling rhetoric here one has it, both possessive and diminutive. By naming this as a revolution simply of youth, there rests the implication that they lack the experience, the organization or the competencies ostensibly required to change the system, that such reforms are beyond young people. Even if this were simply a youth revolution, the young protesters and revolutionaries in Tahrir have proven themselves better able to understand, manage and transform the political than a thousand “wise men’s councils.”

On the other hand, however, there is something essential to this revolution that has to do with youth, with a generation that up until January 25th had no economic future, was feared and harassed by its government and fellow citizens, and increasingly found itself in the clutches of a culture and society it had no control over, left only to dream of emulating the saccharine consumerist lifestyles of Hollywood characters and the idle rich. The conditions of everyday life for so many Egyptian youth, rich and poor, had become oppressive if not intolerable, as things as simple as love and laughter were either unavailable or had to be undertaken in hushed tones and in secret.

In the spatial occupations of Tahrir, Egyptian youth found a moment and a space where they could congregate, shout, make jokes, play games and interact in ways that were neither those of the surveilled and policed spaces of the older generations nor shallow imitations of “Western” behaviors. January 25th may then be called a youth revolution insofar as it created these spaces, radically free but still notably Egyptian, and which it seeks to perpetuate in order to form a political destiny that is completely serious though not altogether removed from having fun, experimenting with the material of everyday life and defining an identity not governed by the past.

source: The Two ‘Youths’ of the Revolution |