Archive for the ‘Egypt’ Category

I posted this video (English subtitled version) on facebook (with a snarky comment about banning the use of requiem for a dream soundtrack music), and I think twitter. But as we close in on #Jan25, I feel the need to say a little more about it.

When I was in Cairo over Christmas break, I felt this pervasive sense of a dream gone dark . Compared to the summer, when, despite all the reasons for concern, there was still a vitality and a sense of hope, there seemed to be a pervasive exhaustion, or burn out. Sure, that was a big part of  it. The resisters-of-change were the same as they were on Jan24, Jan29, Feb3, Feb11 and ever since. They’re the common factor, and so they dont really enter my calculations. But I guess I felt that the 11-month conscious and intentional campaign by the powers that be (#SCAF, #felool) to co-opt the revolution; to undermine revolutionaries;  to re-foster identity politics; to create a culture of fear and hate; to divert our attentions; to stall and obfuscate; to hold us economically hostage; to sow confusion had taken its toll on everyone else, revolutionaries and the silent majority included. The effects seemed visible everywhere with everyone I talked to. While I think we have lost the moment, and will have to buckle down for the long-haul (5-7 year) effort, perhaps the upcoming anniversary and the @3askarKazeboon, @NoMilTrials and other initiatives can come together to create a second chance. We shall see; history is impossible to predict.

In any case, I think this video illustrates the revolutionaries’ nightmare perfectly. It captures the confusion, the indignation, the sense of betrayal, the bewilderment at the cynicism that seems to make absolutely no sense to them, that dreamy, through-the-looking-glass sense that everything is not what it should be, that logic has been suspended.  Perhaps it is indeed one of the most appropriate uses of the requiem for a dream soundtrack.

Read Full Post »

This is midterm week for me, and since I have been woefully not on top of my academic game this semester, it was supposed to be lockdown for study week.

But then out of left field came yesterday’s events at #Maspero and downtown Cairo. At first I was viciously angry. While my rage has subsided to a simmer, I am still deeply saddened. But I cannot claim that, at any point in all this, I was shocked. Over the last 8-9 months, I have spoken to countless people in the US and Egypt about the “revolution”, which I have insisted would be more adequately labelled an uprising, since there was no real revolution. In many of these conversations I have mentioned two personal anecdotes.

The first is that, on the 9th of January, on my flight back from Cairo to the US, I typed up a few stream of conscious paragraphs. They were bleak. I wrote of how decades of misrule have corrupted Egyptian society to the core. How the corruption was deeply embedded in each and every one of us. I would quickly follow this up with grandiose proclamations of how wrong I was. Of how the activist or revolutionary should never lose hope, because you never know when that moment will arrive when all the work you (and countless others) have done will fall into place. At the second #TweetNadwa in Cairo this summer, that was the message of the activists there: that what happened in January and February 2011 was the gelling together of over 10 years of activism. This I do not doubt.

The second anecdote is that on #Jan25 (on the US east coast, which was by then the 26th in Cairo), in response to an inquiring email by an American friend who used to live in Cairo, I said that I had little hope for significant change. I said that the domestic, regional and global political economic powers were too entrenched. That despite whatever successes this uprising may have, on the medium- to long-term, these interests would not allow much significant change. Among the things i spoke of were the domestic business and power interests (what we now call felool); the regional regime that includes, inter alia, the regressive interests of KSA and Israel, as enforced by the the inordinate, and not exactly in the US’s best interests, influence of the Israel and oil lobbies in US politics; and the global financial capitalist corporate interests.

Examples of this abounded in the months since Mubarak stepped aside. The regressive methods of the military, including the silencing of dissent, extrajudicial detentions, military trials, and unwarranted use of excessive force; the kowtowing of the media; the events of June all pointed to the refusal of various elements of the supposedly ousted regime to go down without a fight. Netenyahu’s and Saudi Arabia’s public dismay at the ouster of Mubarak indicated the frantic concern regarding the implications of a democratically run and newly-empowered Egypt. The frenetic throwing of money and debt Egypt’s way by the US, EU, IMF and GCC countries showed how insistent Capital was at maintaining the status quo.

All of this may be true, but it is not sufficient to explain why we continue to fail. Why we continue to be backed into situations like #abaseyya on #Jul23 and #Maspero last night.

I have over the last few months spent some time studying system dynamics theory, with its concepts of resilience and adaptive capacity, and particularly the panarchy of embedded hierarchically organized adaptive cycles, with their differential temporal and spacial scales (I wish i had more time/space to elaborate). But, it suffices to say that in such a framework (which comes from ecology, i should note, but has since been broadened to include social and coupled social-ecological systems (SESs)), when a disturbance occurs, one of two broad outcomes are likely in the subsequent reorganization. First, and perhaps more likely, is that the reorganization will closely map the initial system, continuing to allocate resources in the same way. We see this in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. Second, there may be enough dormant features that could emerge and create re-organization that allocates resources and creates structures and processes that are new. I interpreted the myriad and multitudinous post-uprising efforts and initiatives as just this: the reorganization along new lines. In addition to all the parties and awareness campaigns, the rise of new media, i had particular hope in the labor movement as the best guarantor of a new system that did not just continue to privilege the global elite, but that pursued a more equitable, socially (and, eventually, environmentally) conscious path.

I have spoken over the last few months of discourse and the shift from the separation of the political from the social. I was thrilled to see the gradual, if much resisted and as yet incomplete, inclusion of social and economic issues into the public discourse. At first these were termed partisan (fe2awy) demands. But, by and by, they have gradually seeped into public discourse. I realize now that this may have been too abstracted and cerebral; that what I wrote on the 9th of January remains true to this day.

Over the last few decades, Egypt has been corrupted to the core. WE are corrupt to the core. I am not talking here of the institutional corruption of vested interests. I am not talking about the petty corruption of bribes or of nepotism. These are significant, sure. But what is at stake here is our very souls. Our ethics and values. And I am certainly not talking about how we dress, what we eat or drink, or any of the symbolic quasi-religious issues that are used to manipulate our hates and fears.

The problem is that we as individuals and as a society have no moral compass. Whenever anything happens, we are quick to blame someone or another. No doubt, some people bear more responsibility and, therefore, culpability than others in the way events unfold (the SCAF, as the insidious, albeit bumbling, executive and legislative authority is no doubt at the top of the list). But to allocate blame that way is not sufficient. We must realize that within ourselves are all the things that we hate in others. But until we take responsibility for ourselves, as individuals, communities and as a society, we will never get anywhere. Egyptians need to learn to be self-critical, to be able to look inside themselves and see what their faults are. More importantly, we need to begin to address those faults, of our independent initiative and volition. And then we need to have real, honest conversations with each other, with our friends and communities, about what is wrong with us; not with some constructed ‘other’.

The easiest thing in the world, when faced with difficulty is to blame the other ‘side’ for something that we would have done ourselves if we were in the same situation. We need to be self-critical, to overcome our dark sides, to realize that we dont have to live in fear and hate of the other. That if only we loved ourselves more, we could love others more as well. I know this sounds trite. But it is true, and it is backed up by countless studies. Only when you are at peace with yourself, satisfied that you have done or are doing the best you honestly can, can you begin to feel positively towards other people.

Only when this happens, will we be free from the manipulations that pit Muslim against Copt and Salafi against Sufi. Only then will we be able to control the urges to harass. Only then will we realize the difference between despising racist Zionist policies and racistly hating Jews. Only then will we realize the difference between patriotic belonging and fascist superiority. Only then will we be able to value equity over exploitation, sharing over stockpiling. Only then will be able to resist buying hearsay and jumping to conclusions. And only then will we be able to address our real challenges like building a better tomorrow for all people, not just Egypt, or managing Egypt’s (and the world’s) impending Malthusian water-, food-, and land-security and climate crises.

This is the discursive shift, the revolution in thought, that we really need. One in which the truth is not that the other is always wrong and always to blame. One in which we can move beyond hateful and fear-fueled knee-jerk reflexes and begin to really examine what it is that we need to move forward. We may not always agree, and that’s fine. But there will never be a successful revolution so long as we continue to think in regressive terms.

In short, we need a revolution against our very selves.

I would like to point to this Arabic facebook post that comes to similar conclusions.

Read Full Post »

Dear USA,

Oh, you have an Office for Middle East Transitions now?

How ’bout this: Leave us the fuck alone. We dont want your counterrevolutionary, imperial, siphoning-off-riches-for-Western-financial-institutions, creating-markets-for-the-MilitaryIndustrialAgriOilComplex meddling in our affairs. We dont want your aid or your debt. We dont want your teargas or your tanks. We dont want your fertilizers or your GMOs. We’ll take twitter, facebook and google though; they’re kind of neat and dont come with debt attached.

How about instead of poking your noses in our business, you figure out why you have the worst health and education levels in the developed world? Or why you have expanding income disparity and growing third-world poverty? Or why your corporations dont pay taxes while shipping your jobs abroad? Or, for that matter, why after you bailed them out with trillions of your tax dollars, the executives are raking in billions while you’re freaking out about what source of debt you’re going to default on first? Credit Card? Mortgage? Car Loan?  Or the whole national shebang? Or why institutionalized human rights abuses keep being uncovered under the watch of the troops that have been fighting a stupid war for a decade? Or why you can’t muster the willpower to transition to renewable energy and instead are building the KXL pipeline that will actually ship oil from Canada, over your land and then off to the rest of the world, with nary a drop for you? Or why you’ve gradually given up so many of the liberties and values that made you the shining light of freedom and progress that the entire world looked up to? How about you work on all that?

By the time you’re done, we’ll probably have figured our own business out. In fact, I’m pretty sure you wont have gotten anywhere by the time we’re done. I mean, even the messianic Obama couldnt do anything to get you out of your corporate-beholden, two-parties-that-are-actually-the-same, stuck-in-the-babyboomers’-sixties-culture-wars hole. Maybe when we’re done here, we’ll set up an Office for Transition in the USA. Maybe. But we know pretty well by now how much trouble it is and it causes to meddle in others’ business. So maybe we can just meet for coffee and hang out. Or, there’s always Skype (we’ll take that too, it’s also neat).


a purportedly-backwards-towel-headed-ignorant-atriskofIslamofascism-ay-rab-no-longer-in-need-of-benevolence

Read Full Post »

In 2006 I wrote a rant titled Why I Hate Ramadan. I posted it in 2007 and you can see the whole post here.  The post was concerned with the hypocrisies and inconsistencies in the way that Egyptians, and particularly Cairenes, practiced this month. The bulk of the post, not surprisingly, had to do with sexuality and sexual harassment. The article was intended to be argued within the Islamic frame of reference. Despite being written in a much different context than post-revolutionary Egypt and by a 5-years less intellectually mature me, the main points stand. I am copying the relevant portion here.

Temptations of the Flesh

I first came up against this several years ago when my much older (around 50 now) cousin was working downtown. It was Ramadan, and he complained about how, on his way home, he had to be very careful where he looked while passing by AUC because the girls there broke his fast. This immediately struck me as odd. First of all, broke his fast? Personally, I didnt exactly get a hard-on every time i saw a girl’s hair or arms. Second, how is it her fault?

Obviously, this has been a recurring theme. Every Ramadan I have to hear from my female friends about how much shit they get for walking around in what is usually as modest as you can get without wearing a tent. And every Ramadan I have to hear misogynistic Egyptian men, bitch about how unveiled girls break their fast. I think this is absolutely absurd.

It seems to stem from a widely accepted, by even the most liberal and secular of people, Egyptian belief that God created man with hormones and that he has no control over this and that is the duty of women to make sure that they don’t get men’s thoughts going (on a side note, this is, unfortunately, so institutionalized that until recently rapists could get off of charges by proposing to the girl and if a couple is caught having extramarital sex, guess who goes to jail? Yep! the woman for prostitution!). Absurd!

God created man (and woman) with a multitude of fleshly, earthly desires and urges. These include the need for food and drink, the urge for sexual satisfaction (both sexes, believe it or not), tendencies towards anger, greed, glutton, sloth and a weakness for temptations of alcohol and drugs. And on top of all this, he made it all available to man (and woman, of course) to test their mettle.

Some of this is obviously unacceptable (ie, a sin) regardless of context. Others, are a matter of regulation. God expects you to eat and drink, but not to be a glutton; to have sex, but not out of marriage, etc…

And in order for Muslims to learn to control their urges, we, thankfully, have Ramadan. A time of piety when one is expected to control all urges from food and drink to sex and anger. You’re supposed to develop self-discipline and patience. What does this have to do with sex? If you cant stop yourself from thinking sexual thoughts, it’s YOUR FAULT. No one else can take the blame for you. Seeing flesh is not what breaks your fast, it’s the unbridled lust that does.

Now, whether or not you think that women should be veiled is completely and utterly besides the point. Why? I’m not even going to bother with the argument about foreign or christian women, who aren’t bound by Islamic tradition. It’s a moot point when you consider this: Let’s say you’re standing around and Morkos (your coptic friend) is eating a sandwich or Sara (yes, she’s veiled. don’t worry) is smoking today because shhh-you-know-what. It’s so ingrained in our understanding of Ramadan that even a third grader can tell you that you will be further rewarded for your perseverance. So the next time you see a half-naked (and by that i mean that her forearms, face and hair are showing), stop thinking about jumping her. Think about god, lower your gaze and keep on moving. If you don’t stare at her long enough to cuss her out, you could just stand a chance of keeping those thoughts out of your mind.

In short, there is absolutely no excuse for sexual harassment. It is a disease. It reflects a lack of tolerance and acceptance. It is in part a symptom of decades-long entrenchment of power imbalance, the systemic institutionalization of a lack of personal dignity, and arguably culturally relative inconsistencies in the valuing of individually and community rights.

But most importantly it reflects a lack of personal responsibility. It entails the underlying fatalistic assumption that man cannot take ownership of his actions and destiny. While this may have been understandable before, there is no longer any excuse. If we want to build a new Egypt then we have to each take responsibility for ourselves and our actions. We have to also take on the responsibility of fighting the good fight in our daily lives and not just in Tahrir. People talk about partisan demands (mataleb fe2aweyya), but what they dont understand is that while we may have ridden Egypt of Mubarak, his legacy still stands in every institution and aspect of our society and we must all work within out circles of influence to rout out the pervasive corruption of our society. This is a fight on all fronts simultaneously. And what more important and worthy front than one that includes half of our society and that can be fought at every level, whether personal or societal?

Stop treating women like second-class citizens in their own land. Give them the dignity we have fought so long and hard to achieve for everyone. Take responsibility. Stand up to Sexual Harassment when you see it.

End Sexual Harassment.


Read Full Post »

This was written a few weeks ago as the first part of a much larger project. I have yet to get around to addressing the third part. So I am publishing this for the most part as it was written. The material and some of the links may seem dated at this point, but I want to get the conclusion out there.


Over the last three weeks, I have started writing several times. Unfortunately, I’ve found it impossible to focus on anything other than following the unfolding minutia and so have been unable to get very far. Now that the immediacy of the uprising has ended with a military coup, perhaps it is time to join the rush to comment without critical distance on the antecedents to the 25 January mass uprising, the challenges to its stated aspirations and outlooks for the future.

A lot has been written over the last couple of weeks (Sarah Carr, Jack Shenker) as well as long before the January 2011 Arab uprisings about all of the efforts undertaken and progress made over the last decade or so. Even a cumulative reading of the most recent writing leaves some linkages unmentioned. I emphasize the role of the decade long process of youth organization and politicization.

There are many factors that have led us to this point and even with critical distance it will be difficult to unravel a straight forward narrative. There are so many intertwined strands. The socioeconomic factors are key as is the way in which the regime has increasingly relied on force and corruption to maintain itself, alienating pretty much the entire population, including (as was evident by their turnout in the uprising) the elite. At various points external factors have played a role, including regional events (I touch upon the Intifada and the invasion of Iraq) that served to galvanize opposition, and international pressure (which I don’t mention any further) that helped open up politics for a crucial moment around 2004-05 creating a wedge for the opposition and media that proved impossible to close. The bulk of this narrative, however, is centered on youth, attempting to tease out the decade-long building of their capacity and political consciousness.

Socioeconomic Factors

Egypt observers have been talking about a revolution for at least a decade, if not longer. Time and again predictions were made of its imminence. A large part of the focus was on all the reasons for explaining the lack of a revolution: cultural relativist arguments such as that the Egyptians are a quiet, humble, accepting people; that they’ve been ruled by dictators for millennia; social explanations such as patriarchic nature of society or the remnants of tribalism; socioeconomic ones such as that the social networks guarantee that no one is starving; political ones about the lack of a rallying point in the post-Camp David era; and all sorts of other drivel that we deluded ourselves into thinking made sense. It was hard to not fall into this trap. After all, it seemed like Egypt was defying all the odds. Evidently, all of the pieces were not yet in place.

Perhaps we needed the restarting of the stalled neoliberal, Washington consensus-dictated structural adjustment “reform” programs. Perhaps we needed Gamal to enter stage right with his coterie of corrupt capitalists that would over the course of only a few years accelerate the siphoning off of massive amounts of Egyptian wealth into their pockets (not to mention Swiss bank accounts, New York investment funds and London properties). While the process of crony capitalism had been unfolding since Sadat’s Infitah, maybe the army officers that were the center of this still had some degree of pride in their nation and if not little modesty, then at least a sense that they were in fact benefiting disproportionately and unfairly. And so, while no doubt amassing significant wealth, their capitalism was still Egypt-centered and the benefits they derived relatively inconspicuous.

In any case, Gamal’s rise to power in the NDP and his technocrat/capitalist entourage made sure that the benefits were conspicuous. Over the course of the last decade, and particularly since 2004, the regime rapidly deregulated the economy, gradually tried to lift subsidies, sold off not only banks and large parts of the public sector (to themselves it seems), but practically gave away the public land on which the grotesquely designed and grossly inequitable and insanely unsustainable gated golf-courses, megamalls and cookie-cutter beach resorts would be built for the uber-rich. Aside from the fact that this US-imported de-urbanization has proven to be a great folly even in parts of the US where there isn’t a looming water catastrophe, if nothing else it served to underscore the massive societal class divisions that were being exacerbated by the neoliberal policies, where the rich got richer and the poor poorer, a pattern that has followed IMF interventions across the globe starting with Latin America in the seventies and eighties. The change was so rapid that it did not take any political economic schooling to understand; everyone could see what was happening and knew why.

One key point that I think differentiated the new crony capitalists was the audacity and sense of entitlement with which they ruled. A friend at Yale’s School of Management has related the story of one of the simulations they took part in. The (market) simulation was rigged by the organizers to favor a certain group so that if they won, the odds of their continuing to win were much higher. He tells me that, while the disadvantaged groups caught on to this fact, those who were winning (himself included) had the conviction that they were just shrewder than the rest.

There is little reason to elaborate further. The socioeconomic drivers had long been in place but were accelerated and put on prominent display by the Gamal and Ezz-led, Nazif-managed crony capitalist neoliberalization of the economy.

Youth Activism

The lore surrounding the rise of activism over the last decade has by now become in some senses mystified. Ask a dozen activists about it and you will get a dozen answers. But some themes are consistent:

  • The Second Intifada is thought to have been the first key event. It brought many sympathizers out into the streets and on to the campuses. Perhaps key for the future of activism was the committee for the assistance of Palestine (I may be getting exact name wrong, but the idea was to gather and deliver in kind donations) which served as the first point of coordination and communication among diverse groups. Another oft-quoted benefit was that the older activists from the seventies were reconnected, in some cases for the first time in decades.
  • The March 2003 invasion of Iraq witnessed massive outpourings across the region. In Cairo protesters from AUC, Cairo University and beyond converged upon Tahrir in the first massive mobilization in decades. Again, this was a crucial platform for coordination among old and new activists.

Kifaya and the Rise of the Youth

These two key events sowed the seeds of what was to become Kifaya, the umbrella group formed in late 2004 to reject any further terms for Mubarak or his son. Much has been written about the rise and fall of this group, but I would like to emphasize the role of the so called Kifaya youth (shabab min agal il taghyeer, youth for change). The people involved included youth from the Muslim Brotherhood, the old and new parties, the revolutionary socialists (who by then had been operating for several years on campuses) as well as youth that previously had little or no political affiliation. It included street organizers, campus activists and perhaps critically, the tech-savvy vanguard of the internet, some of who were already politicized and others for whom politics was a new venture.

As the spring of 2005 progressed, cracks began to appear between the youth and what they often derogatorily called the “ties” (as in the suits), with the youth agitating for a more active and aggressive role than the veterans were willing to sanction. No doubt there was the idealism and gung-ho spirit that comes with youth at play.

But in retrospect, there was something else going on. Youth were learning (not always successfully) to debate, organize and, crucially, to unleash their creativity in circumventing the regime. Often with support and advice from the veterans (but certainly not always), they developed ways in which to make large protests more orderly as well as ways in which to keep the regime unbalanced. For example, there were the oxymoronic “secret protests” in which only a handful of people would know the actual pre-scouted location (usually in popular quarters). They would ensure that others appeared nearby, would guide them to the location at which point a seemingly spontaneous protest would erupt, march through a marketplace and then just as suddenly disperse some thirty minutes later.

Over the years, youth have learned from their counterparts abroad as well. I’m not talking about the Western money poured into “training” programs on citizenship and democracy. I’m sure they’ve had some value, but more crucial has been learning from fellow activists and dissenters.

Blogs and the Internet

While I have long been disdainful of the whole facebook-activism, twitter-revolution sensationalism (read this on the difference between strong and weak ties; and this for a very interesting take on the role of social media), I have maintained that at least from a theoretical perspective: social media, the internet and, more broadly, the still unfolding ICT revolution, offer the possibility of a similar socio-political revolutionary impact to that of the Gutenberg press. The spread of information and ideas in places where there has historically been a monopoly on the Truth (to carry the analogy, akin to that of the medieval Church), could have (and arguably is having) significant impacts on society.

To return to the point, it was, naturally, the youth that took to the emerging blogs and internet most readily. It can be argued that the internet not only created a space for debate and organizing but also made it possible for secular leftists and Islamists to communicate and cooperate with respect for each other despite the fact that their leaders could not. (Though, to be fair, the trend was started offline as early as a decade earlier by the revolutionary socialists). This is not to ignore the conflicts, but there was definitely something happening here in terms of laying the groundwork for intelligent, respectful dialog.

For all the challenges, the petty squabbling and the subsequent disintegration of Kifaya as an institution (if it ever was that), the youth were building networks, learning and creating a body of experience about dissent, and developing means of communication that would prove crucial building blocks. But this group of several hundred on- and offline activists’ efforts had remained frustrated for many years. The running sardonic joke was that protests were a good excuse to meet up with people you don’t see day to day. There were other important moments along the way that I am aware I am glossing over, such as the judges that spoke out against the fraudulent 2005 parliamentary elections and the campaign to support them; the Israeli attacks on Lebanon (2006) and Gaza (2008-09). But, none of this gained much traction beyond a core group. And, though there is no way to test this, I would argue that had Tunisia happened a year earlier, Egypt may not have had its uprising. So, what has changed over the last year?

Mohamed El Bardie

While there is much ambivalence surrounding his role and his suitability as a leader in Egypt, I find it hard to dismiss the evidence that the appearance of an educated, successful, internationalist, untainted by the necessary corruption of making a name over the last few decades and bolstered by the prestige of standing up to the Bush administration and a Nobel Peace prize to boot has drawn in a certain segment of young people: the educated, foreign-language speaking, usually private school educated and private sector employed, ambitious middle and especially upper middle class. While El Baradie may have little street cred, his organization nevertheless did garner a million signatures to their agenda for change and, perhaps more importantly, drew in a previously unpoliticized, yet critical, segment of society.

We are all Khalid Said

The role of Khalid Said’s unfortunate though all too common death at the hands of Egypt’s notoriously thuggish police forces is perhaps more evident. Again, it drew in a large number of previously apolitical middle class youth. One of the challenges that activists have long struggled with is the popular perception, particularly among the middle classes, that if you kept your head low, you could avoid the excesses of the police. But here was a random kid in his twenties with no Islamist or political links. The publicity that surrounded Khalid Said’s murder as well as the arrogant impunity with which the regime managed the fallout was a wake-up call.

A call facilitated, no doubt, by the astute manner in which the support campaign, “We are all Khalid Said,” was managed. By framing the reaction in an apolitical manner, it was possible to mobilize thousands of youth to stand in silent remembrance of the victim of police violence without linking the issue to the larger institutional and systemic issues. It is critical to note that here, again, we see the innovation of youth circumvention of the regime, through, for example calling for people to not communicate, carry banners or stand in groups, technically neutralizing the public assembly restrictions of emergency law.

6 April

I have purposefully put off discussing the 6th of April movement to the end of this youth section. Their politics and role have been the subject of much contention. In response to a call by Mahalla workers for a strike in April 2008, a group of youth formed a facebook group in the hopes of rallying around this labor action to link it to broader political issues. The first time around, they managed to keep people at home (most likely out of fear of dealing with the clashes), but by 2009 the irrelevance which veteran activists had insisted upon had become apparent. While I think their intentions were admirable, the crux of their failure was that they had not yet built any real networks with labor. And it is these real-life networks that are key.

Labor Activism

On the back of the churning of 2004-05, 2006 witnessed the emergence and spread of labor activism. Hossam el Hamalawy has been tracking this for years and his blog is an archive of much (though I doubt even he would claim most) of the progress over the last few years. (Until this last week, their crowning victory was the April 2009 establishment of the first free union in decades). While initially sporadic and focused on narrow factory issues, it was not long before workers began to link their concerns with those of the system at large including regional issues.

Rather than belabor the matter, I will defer to Hossam and other documenters of the labor movement, save to make two points. First, that, again, like the youth this was a long term process of politicization and organization that has been unfolding for over a decade.

Second, and this is a critical point that is missed in most of the media coverage, in all likelihood it was the mass labor strikes in the second week of February that tipped the balance of the uprising and shook the regime. This is not to discredit the protesters on the street, but while the regime might have imagined it could weather the street protest storm, I think the powers that be realized that they had a lot more to fear from the factory floor and street joining forces, especially when the labor movement has already demonstrated such a strong capacity for organization.


Why this is all so important is to dispel some of the mystification of the January 25 seemingly spontaneous mass uprising. The narrative for much of the last three weeks has been that a handful of anonymous online activists issued a call on facebook to which tens of thousands of people responded. The details are still emerging, but this is clearly not an accurate depiction of what happened.

In fact, a lot more organizing went into it than had been presumed as depicted by this WSJ article and the previously cited Shekner post. To summarize: A diverse group of organizers had been meeting for at least a couple of weeks (no doubt building on years of networking). They realized they had to overwhelm the security apparatus and spread them thinly – no easy task with over 1.2 million people in the security apparatus. Twenty sites were announced. But this was not enough: A 21st site, in the popular district of Bulaq al-Dakrour was kept secret. As outlined above, this was not an innovation; it was the incorporation of a tactic used at least as far back as 2005. Again, their years of experience meant that they knew they had to work on timing, which they empirically measured and synchronized. In the end, it was this secret group that finally broke into Tahrir.

By the time the regime realized the magnitude of what had just happened, it was too late. The crack in the fear barrier that was Tunisia had been blown wide open by the people on the street. I say this with caution as somebody that has not had the privilege of being on the ground: It seems to me that the reaction on the ground was a little too good to have been random and spontaneous. I have little doubt that the medical assistance (much as the legal assistance) was spearheaded by long-time activists. It also seems as though the football ultras played a significant role alongside Muslim Brotherhood youth at some of the most critically existential moments for the uprising. Their years of coordination came in handy.

This does not detract from all of the people that stepped up, but the point I am trying to drive home is this: It took a decade of capacity building to get where we are today. Despite all the odds and a lack of any institutional locus, the dedicated activists (though I would like to think that the on-and-offers like me have also contributed somehow) have consciously (and sometimes not so consciously) developed the infrastructure and capacity for dissent against an authoritarian regime.

The question now is: do we have the capacity to build a nation, also against all odds?

Read Full Post »

Enter Sandman ..err.. -monkey

Sandmonkey says that as all the familiar old faces emerge to start their activism at square one again, he’s back too.

I have to agree, at least partially, with the sentiment. We’re back to 2004 with all the political “actors” and activists beginning to reemerge and feel each other and the scene out. Of course, I’m sure he recognizes (and is just being facetious) that all is not exactly the same. Egypt 2009 is not the same as Egypt 2004, nor will the Parliamentary and Presidential elections be a replay of 2005; a reprise maybe.

Some things have changed (in the particular order of their occurring to me):

  • The constitution has been doctored
  • The economy is different. Egypt may still be a neoliberal poster child (growth! growth! growth!) but the poor are having a harder and harder time, and where, 5 years ago, it took hours of conversation to get them to realize/admit/vocalize it, people now know who to blame and are hardly reticent.
  • Hosny is much older while Jimmy-and-Krew much more firmly entrenched in the system
  • The global political and regional climates have changed: No more Bush Freedom agenda followed by absolute apathy; Gaza and Lebanon and the ensuing dynamics have altered/highlighted the regional power balance (financial, moral and political)
  • The regime has learned a lot battling the activism of the last 9 years or so.
  • The activists have learned some things. Though, as SM makes it clear, they still havent figured out how to be political actors, really.
  • There is a much more active labor movement than there was then
  • The MB will not be surprising the NDP this time around.
  • The media scene is vastly different. For one thing, trailblazing Dostour and Masry El Youm of then have since been oneupped by even newer publications. Web 2.0 is taking hold and try as it might to thwart, the government is the reactionary and could find itself caught off balance at any moment.
  • And much else that doesnt immediately come to mind, I am sure.

In any case, cursory list aside: Welcome back to Sandmonkey and all the familiar (and hopefully unfamiliar faces) of yester-semidecade.

Here’s to it not being a repeat.


Read Full Post »

AUC Suspends Classes for H1N1 SwineFlu

Here is the notice that AUC sent out:

AUC to Suspend Classes until October 3rd

AUC will be suspending classes beginning Thursday, September 17 until Saturday, October 3. The decision follows a request by the Egyptian government that the university suspend its classes in line with government universities, which have suspended classes due to concerns relating to the H1N1 flu.

There have been no positive cases of the flu reported on the AUC campuses or by any member of the AUC community.

The university’s administrative offices, the library, sports complex and food outlets will be fully operational during the suspension; however, the day care center will be closed. Staff who rely on the day care center will be provided leave during the suspension, if necessary.

Faculty and students are encouraged to utilize all available electronic resources to continue classroom activity. The Office of the Provost will provide guidance and direction on a revised class schedule to ensure all academic requirements are fulfilled.

As already announced, the university will be closed for the Eid September 19 to September 22. We will continue to provide updates to the AUC community immediately following the Eid.

Brian MacDougall

Vice President for Planning and Administration

September 16, 2009

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »