Nawal El Saadawi: “I am against stability. We need revolution.”

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By Nikolaj Nielsen

Renowned author and feminist Nawal El Saadawi believes that her fellow Egyptians “must pay the price for freedom”.

Thursday 11 July 2013


Imprisoned by former president Anwar Sadat, exiled by Hosni Mubarak, and hated by the Muslim Brotherhood leadership, 81-year old dissident and feminist Nawal El Saadawi still sees hope for an Egypt free from the clutches of religious and military rule.

“We will never allow a military government rule or a religious Islamic rule, never,” she told me in Brussels on Wednesday (10 July).

Nawal El Saadawi in Brussels. Photo: ©Nikolaj Nielsen

An avid campaigner for women’s rights in a society deeply ingrained with patriarchal values, Saadawi was a director in the ministry of health in the 1960s working to stop female circumcision.

Her campaign for women’s rights continued, despite her being jailed in 1981 over her publications.

Released two months after the assassination of then-president Anwar Sadat, she fled Egypt in 1988 following numerous threats against her life.

“Democracy means economic equality, social equality – you cannot have democracy under a patriarchy when women are oppressed,” she said.

The liberation of women from religious and patriarchal doctrines is a common theme in her numerous novels, plays, short stories and non-fiction books, some translated into 30 different languages.

Upon her return to Egypt in 2009 after a three-year exile for a play she wrote, Saadawi moved to set up the Egyptian Women’s Union, which she formed at Tahrir square in January 2011.

“I was trying all my life to organise women and so, two years ago, we started the Egyptian Women’s Union. Fifty percent of our members are young men who are progressive and non-patriarchal,” she noted.

Both the United States and Europe can keep their aid, she says, noting that their conditions have condemned Egypt to poverty, submission, and misery.

“The free market is not free, it is only free for the powerful to exploit the weak,” she noted.

Saadawi describes governments in the US and in Europe as capitalist, patriarchal and theocratic systems that promote class oppression.

The EU, for its part, handed over approximately €1 billion in aid to Egypt from 2007 onwards.

But a report published by the European Court of Auditors in June said corruption and lack of accountability squandered funds paid directly to the Egyptian authorities.

The court said women’s and minorities’ rights were not given sufficient attention despite the critical need for urgent action to counter the tide of growing intolerance.

“The whole philosophy of the world, capitalism, patriarchy, and religions – we are still living in the post-modern slave system,” she said.

As for the Americans, Saadawi says they buy influence over the Egyptian military elite, which is complicit in forging a false sense of stability for Israel’s benefit.

“Revolution came out in the streets because we are fed up with poverty. We are forced into poverty by US aid. US aid increased poverty in Egypt,” she noted.

On Thursday (11 July), the US approved the shipment of four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt despite the political unrest in the country.

The planes are set for delivery in the next few weeks.

Not a military coup

Despite her criticism of US-Egyptian-military scheming, Saadawi describes the downfall of the Muslim Brotherhood, their arrests, and forced isolation by the army as part of an ongoing revolution to establish a civil secular society based on social justice.

The deposition of Egypt’s fifth president Mohamed Morsi is not a military coup, she insists.

She said the army was initially reluctant to intervene, but armed Muslim brothers forced their hand in a revolution that has yet to see its final outcome.

“I heard women and children screaming because of the bullets and blood oozing on Tahrir square and people were saying where is the army?” she said.

With Morsi out, Saadawi says there is now a greater chance to put in place a secular constitution where everyone is equal, regardless of religion, gender or class.

“We must write this constitution before any election,” she said.

But the task ahead is fraught with difficulties.

On Wednesday, an arrest warrant was issued for the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Badie, for inciting violence in a speech that saw thousands take to the streets.

Nine other warrants on the leadership were also issued.

Critics say the arrests risk usurping the interim government’s plan for national unity.

Saadawi, for her part, dismisses the warning.

National unity, she says, will come from a fiercely independent and free-thinking younger generation.

“I am against stability. We need revolution. We need to move ahead and pay the price for freedom,” she said.


Follow Nikolaj Nielsen on Twitter.

This article first appeared on EUobserver.comIt is published here with the author’s consent.

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A manifesto for Egypt’s future

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By Khaled Diab

As Egypt risks another disastrous transition, it is time to create a unique model for Egyptian democracy. No president, no parties, direct democracy.

Wednesday 10 July 2013

The past few days in Egypt have been filled with tension, uncertainty, ever-greater polarisation, growing violence and recrimination. The army’s handling of pro-Morsi protests, its arrest of leading  Muslim Brotherhood members and the killing of dozens of protesters is reprehensible and must be condemned unequivocally by all Egypt’s political and revolutionary forces.

Some have seen in the army’s disproportionate actions and excessive use of force confirmation of the gross miscalculation and hypocrisy of Egypt’s opposition and revolutionary forces by backing the forcible removal of Egypt’s “legitimate” and “democratically elected” leader.

But I see the army’s actions and the clashes between pro- and anti-Morsi supporters not as the product of political legitimacy undermined but as a symptom of illegitimacy compounded until the entire house of cards came tumbling down.

Morsi, as I argued in my previous article, lost any claims to legitimacy that he may have once had. But the problem runs much, much deeper than that. Egypt’s botched transition towards democracy excluded or sidelined most of the revolutionary youth movements due to restrictive and prohibitive conditions for party formation, which favoured the established and highly organised, such as the Brotherhood.

Over and above this, the transitional constitution was seriously flawed, as was the idea that Egypt’s new constitution should be drafted by parliament. This left Egypt in a ‘cart before the horse’ situation, in which the race was being run before the rules had been set. More importantly and surreally, the players, especially those on the winning side, were given the chance to write their own rules.

This, as critics pointed out, would favour whoever managed to come out on top in parliament and would enable them to load the rules of the game in their own favour. And so it came to bear, and the Brotherhood and Salafis created a document which declared that all Egyptians were “equal” but some Egyptians – middle-aged, conservative Muslim men, to be precise – were far, far more equal than others. More chillingly, it empowered the state to “safeguard and protect morality and public decency” and to “maintain a refined level of upbringing”.

Furthermore, next to nothing was done during the transition to reform the office of the president, which retained most of its powers, and to strengthen other institutions against it, in order to create the kinds of checks and balances that would avoid the emergence of another Mubarak.

This was amply demonstrated in November 2012 when Morsi, confusing himself for Superman, transferred to himself, with the simple flourish of a pen, unlimited powers to “protect” Egypt and legislate without any oversight, which he was later forced to repeal due to a massive wave of protests.

And then there is the murky, antidemocratic role of the military. Some mistakenly see the removal of Morsi by the army as a dangerous sign that the military had come out of its barracks to interfere in politics once again. But the point is that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) had never withdrawn from the political arena; it just retreated tactically behind the facade of a subservient political system largely of its own making.

Revolutionaries had warned the Brotherhood against this and asked them to join in the struggle to push the SCAF out of politics, but the Freedom and Justice Party and Morsi chose ‘pragmatism’ and self-interest over principle, even as demonstrators and protesters were being killed and arrested by the military. They made a pact with the devil and the devil won.

Egypt’s political woes are not just structural and institutional. There is also the country’s leadership challenge. Six decades of dictatorship left Egypt without a clear pool of competent leadership material. That is not to say that there are no competent leaders but just that they are inexperienced, untested and often even unknown to the public.

Someone with Morsi’s obvious absence of calibre, who could have authored the Islamist version of How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, is a sad manifestation of this. The disarray, division and disastrous infighting in revolutionary and opposition ranks is partly a symptom of this, and partly a manifestation of the dilemma of any mass revolutionary movement which unites disparate groups with ultimately divergent goals.

In addition, the disparity in organisational competence and reach between the Brotherhood and the so-called ‘official opposition’ is often attributed to the superior skills of this Islamist movement, undoubtedly good as they are, or is seen as a product of some kind of traditional affinity Egyptians have with religious conservatism.

However, it is often forgotten that the Brotherhood’s conservative religious agenda was once anathema to large swathes of the Egyptian population, even in the countryside. For example, in a rare film featuring former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser talking about the Brotherhood, a witty farmer suggests that the movement’s Supreme Guide should be the one to don a hijab, rather than Egyptian women!

Some argue that had it not been for Nasser’s repression, the Brothers would’ve ruled Egypt a long time ago. Personally, I’m not so sure. Nasser was an equal opportunities tyrant who, if anything, crushed his secular opposition, which represented a more direct threat to his rule, more ruthlessly and brutally than the Islamists, who at the very least had the mosque to retreat to.

And had it not been for the blowback of Nasser’s torture chambers, Sadat’s dangerous game of empowering the Islamists to crush his secular opponents, and Mubarak’s penchant for giving the Islamists some leeway to scare the outside world, the Brotherhood might have remained an effective charitable and social movement, rather than a dangerous and divisive political one.

But with their boundless reserves of creativity, Egypt’s young revolutionaries – who sometimes seem to be rebelling also against the very concept of leadership – turned a weakness into a powerful political weapon which decapitated the Egyptian regime three times in two and a half years. The leaderless protests created a hydra with millions of heads which the regime could not contain and keep down.

However, though leaderless mass uprisings can topple regimes rapidly, they are far less capable of building a viable and robust alternative. And we are witnessing this again, as the army steps into the void and shows signs of attempting to engineer the same kind of short-sighted “transition” that got us to this impasse in the first place.

So, how can we overcome this weakness and the other challenges outlined above?

The current situation provides a golden opportunity to reinvent Egypt’s political system and to create a unique model of Egyptian democracy that is tailored to this reality in which there is no clear leadership, institutions are weak and there is an overriding public desire for direct democratic participation.

And this new system should be shaped through an inclusive national conversation that involves not only all of Egypt’s political currents, but all interested citizens who wish to contribute their views.

As one of those citizens, here is my vision for creating a uniquely Egyptian democracy. First, given the abuse to which it has been put over the decades and the temptation for all its occupants to turn to dictatorship, I suggest that the Egyptian presidency be stripped of all its powers and transformed into a ceremonial position.

The shambled remains of Egypt’s first democratically elected parliament increase my conviction that Egypt should do away with parties altogether. Given that political parties are the cornerstone upon which most governments around the world, whether democratic or not, are built, this may sound radical, bizarre or even bonkers.

But not only does Egypt not have a strong party political tradition, abolishing parties will allow the country to create a democratic parliament in the truest sense of the word, and overcome the current destructive factionalism that sees people forced to choose sides in a polarised and explosive standoff.

Moreover, parties have certain antidemocratic tendencies, such as forcing members to vote along party lines, regardless of their individual convictions. Then, there is the ‘tyranny’ of the party system, which can concentrate power and hinder change, due to the antidemocratic inertia exerted by the mainstream parties. This is a particularly severe problem in the first-past-the-post system, such as in the United States and Britain, where voters may be hungry for change but will almost never vote for small parties because they believe they cannot win.

Little wonder, then, that some of America’s founding fathers warned against the dangers of party politics. “[Parties] serve to organise faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation, the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community,” George Washington cautioned in his farewell address.

For that reason, Egypt would be better served with a flexible non-party representative democracy in which individual candidates run, whether for parliament or the presidency, on their own merit and personal manifesto.

This will provide individual politicians with the flexibility to vote according to their conscience and the will of their constituents, while organising informally around certain issues of the day. For example, on certain key matters – such as youth unemployment, gender rights, social policy, trade, foreign policy questions, etc. – groups of politicians of similar conviction can form temporary, unofficial alliances, rather like the Egyptian opposition has already been doing for numerous years, such as with the Kefaya movement.

Over and above this, in order to avoid the emergence unrepresentative ‘representative democracy,’ politicians’ power can be kept in check through a hybrid direct democracy in which, like in Switzerland, the people are consulted directly on vital issues.

In addition, to move mass protest out of the streets and into the formal political arena, and to respond to Egyptians’ newfound hunger for direct political participation, concerned citizens who are unhappy with certain decisions taken by their representatives or wish to launch their own initiatives should have recourse to a formal mechanism that enables immediate action, if they gather enough signatures.

This also moves us away from the condescending idea in representative democracy that voters should be seen every four years at the ballot box but not heard the rest of the time, and towards the idea that every citizen is a partner and player in the political process.

Egyptians have a golden opportunity to put in place a true democracy of the people and for the people. And, above all, it will be created by the people.


Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This is an updated version of an article which first appeared in The Daily News Egypt on 7 July 2013.

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Egypt’s coup de quoi!?

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By Khaled Diab

The millions on the streets, not dressed in khaki, democratically ejected Mohamed Morsi. Now it’s time to remove the military from Egypt’s politics. 

Wednesday 10 July 2013

As an Egyptian abroad, I cannot but bow my head in admiration and appreciation at what my compatriots have achieved back home… again. In the space of less than two-and-a-half years, millions and millions of ordinary men and women with no previous experience in revolt have bravely and unflinchingly stared down and defied authority… and shaken its authority to the core.

They endured hardship, intimidation, violence and constant uncertainty to topple a tyrant, send the generals scurrying to take cover behind the veil of a flawed democracy, and bring down a would-be dictator-in-the-making.

The sight of millions and millions of people setting aside their daily worries and rivalries to come out again and again and again to tell their leaders – Hosni Mubarak, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the Muslim Brotherhood – never again will we tolerate dictatorship has been truly inspiring to behold.

And it is not just the big picture. Zoom into the imposing, awe-inspiring crowds and you witness thousands of individual stories that can bring a tear to your eye, swell pride in your chest, storm your brain, flood your emotions, raise your spirits with a chuckle and even restore your faith in humanity (at least for a while).

And all this from a people who, until 25 January 2011, were seen, and saw themselves, as apathetic, even docile, in the face of authority. “Why do the Egyptian people not rise up,” was a common question, famously asked by Alaa al-Aswani, but also other concerned Egyptians, including myself.

Today, Egyptians have not only rewritten their political rule book, they need to think about revising their phrasebook of popular proverbs. Out will go such defeatist sayings as “Keep away from harm and sing to it”, “Shut the door that brings in a draught” and “The eye cannot rise above the brow”.

With all this in mind, it is unsurprising that millions were swept up in an irresistible tsunami of elation, and partied all night long. But a collective hangover is bound to set in once people wake up to the Herculean tasks still ahead – and the worrying signs of new clouds forming up above and on the horizon.

But not everyone was celebrating. The Muslim Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), and their supporters were, in contrast, actively grieving. This is, of course, understandable. After decades of waiting underground and then in the wings, they not only lost their newfound grip on power, they also saw their president arrested, as well as other leading Brothers, and a number of Islamist broadcasters shut down, not to mention Al Jazeera Mubashir.

This sends out troubling signals of a return to the bad old days when the Brotherhood was barely tolerated, outlawed or outright persecuted. We must be vigilant that this never occurs, that the Islamists remain part of Egypt’s political landscape and that they are allowed to make future bids for power. Not only is this what freedom and equality is about, it also avoids their grievances boiling over to create a more toxic conflict.

Muslim Brotherhood sympathisers are understandably – though hypocritically, given how Mohamed Morsi tried to turn the presidency into a Brotherhood fiefdom and all the antidemocratic measures he passed – crying foul, and claiming that what happened in Egypt was a ‘military coup d’etat’.

While I can see why Brotherhood/FJP supporters would use such a charged term in this context. Less understandable is why the term is being bandied around by so many in the Arab and Western media. In fact, given how much blood, sweat and tears millions have invested in ousting Mohamed Morsi, many Egyptians must feel insulted that their defiant efforts are being so apparently denigrated.

Although some who use the ‘C’ word do so out of vested interests, many others do so out of genuine concern. Coups are usually antidemocratic and lead to the rise of dictators and authoritarianism. And I see where the confusion is coming from: the army serves a 48-hour ultimatum and then deposes the democratically elected leader.

Indeed, the army did forcibly remove Morsi from office, but this was not the product of a secret plot in murky underground sleeper cells, but was the response to what have been described as the biggest protests in Egyptian, some say human, history. And the millions of people out on the streets who forced the military to take such drastic action were not wearing khaki, as far as I could see.

If we’re going to describe the events of the past days as a ‘coup’, should we also call the entire Egyptian revolution a ‘palace coup’. After all, even if the 18 days of protest put the sword in front of Mubarak, it was the Supreme Council of the Armed Force (SCAF) which pushed him to fall on it. Moreover, the army has not yet really gone away, given that it set the rules of the ‘democratic’ game during the transitional phase, laid down red lines to protect its interests, dissolved parliament and how it is believed to still hold major backroom influence over Egypt’s political machinery.

Besides, all the hand-wringing over the unceremonious jettisoning of Egypt’s first democratically elected leader overlooks the crucial rider that Morsi was also democratically ejected. Democracy is ultimately about the will of the people. Just as voters give politicians mandates, they can withdraw them – and they don’t need to wait to do it via the ballot box if the need is pressing, and they can deliver their vote of no confidence via the streets.

And what a spectacular vote of no confidence it was. When he was voted into office last year, Morsi managed only a puny 13.2 million votes, even though he was running only against one candidate, Ahmed Shafiq. Meanwhile, with turnout at just over half and many actively boycotting the vote, the ‘no’ candidate got about as many votes as the two hopefuls combined.

Contrast this with the estimated 17 million people who took to the streets on 30 June, and the millions more after. That’s not to mention the 22 million signatures the Tamrod petition managed to collect.

Those who argue that the electorate should have kept their grievances for the ballot box ignore the fact that the street is a legitimate democratic forum – in fact, it is the purest form of direct democracy – as reflected by the constitutional protection of people’s right to protest in every mature democracy.

And those who refuse to acknowledge that Egyptians don’t yet live in a stable system like the UK’s – which hasn’t experienced a coup since Oliver Cromwell dissolved the Rump parliament in 1653 – do not generally offer much of an alternative. What was the population to do in the face of Morsi’s stubborn refusal to cede power? Storm the Bastille, so to speak, with all the loss of life that would have involved? Descend into civil war like Syria and Libya did? Perhaps had Syria’s generals forced Bashar al-Assad out, the situation there would be imperfect but far better than today.

While concerns over the potentially dangerous precedent this sets are valid, if a future president faces the same level of widespread and sustained opposition, (s)he deserves to go. In addition, a neglected flip side is that if Morsi had been left to nourish his pseudo-dictatorial tendencies, that would have also set a perhaps more dangerous precedent in a country where the spectre of dictatorship has still not gone away.

Some might see this as little more than a debate over semantics. But this is hugely politicised terminology, which can be used, in the wrong hands, to de-legitimise the revolution and the unprecedented opposition to Morsi.

I should stress that all of the above does not mean that Egyptians should trust, much less express undying devotion to, the military, as a worrying number of people are doing. The people and the army are not a “single hand”. After six decades of military or ex-military dictators, we can safely say that the army got us into this mess in the first place. Moreover, while some in the SCAF undoubtedly act out of an interest in the greater good, collectively the generals are out to preserve, as much as they can, what is left of the military’s privileged status.

This underscores the crucial point that Egyptians should not just say ‘no’ to Morsi, but also to the military. Egypt is under new management, and that management is the people.


Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This article first appeared in The Daily News Egypt on 4 July 2013.

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فى الفلك: حوار ثوري مع جاليليو الصغير

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بقلم باسم رؤوف

تعالى أسألك سؤال مجننى، يا جاليليو. أزاى القانون يمنع الناخب اللى عليه أحكام قضائية أنه يمارس حقه الأنتخابى وفى نفس الوقت يدى المرشح اللى أدين فى قضايا أغتيال أو أرهاب الحق أنه يترشح.

الثلاثاء 11 يونيو 2013

“خرجت من المطبخ وهى بتجر الولد من قفاه، و صرخت بكل أحبالها الصوتيه… “حوش أبنك الفلكى ده عنى. يا تاخده يا هاسيب المحشى يتحرق.”

 “ماله بس؟ و فلكى أيه… مش فاهم!”

 “الولد هرانى أسئلة، ولا عارفه أرد عليه ولا عارفه أشوف الأكل… لو عايز تتغدى النهارده أبعده عنى.”

 “طيب حاضر، بس أيه موضوع فلكى ده؟”

 “سيب الجرايد شويه و أسمع أسئلته وأنت هاتفهم.”

 “يادى النكد…”

“تعالى يا جاليليو (جاليليو مش أسم أبني بس أنا حبيت أستحضر روح جاليليو– أشهر عالم فلك عشان يعيننى فى الأزمه دى) مزعل ماما ليه يا حبيبى؟ أحنا مش أتفقنا تبطل شقاوه؟”

 “بس يا بابا أنا بقى عندى تسع سنين، يعنى لازم أعرف و أفهم كل حاجة زى ما أنت وماما قلتوا لى… وعندى أسئلة كتير ماما مش عايزه تشرحها لى!”

 “أيوه، أحنا صحيح أتفقنا أنك لازم تعرف كل حاجة، بس ما أتفقناش تضايق ماما و هى بتعمل المحشى! المهم، خلاص تعالى قول لى الأسئلة و أنا اللى هاجاوبك و أشرح لك كل اللى أنت عايزه.”

 “بابا هو ليه فيه قطب شمالى وقطب جنوبى بس مافيش قطب غربى ولا قطب شرقى؟”

“ومجرة درب اللبانة… سموها كده ليه مع أنها مش شكل اللبانة اللى عندنا فى المطبخ؟”

 “شوف يا حبيبى، أحنا ناخد سؤال سؤال عشان نفهم كل حاجه بالترتيب… ماشى؟”

 “ماشى، يا بابا.”

 “أولاً الدنيا عباره عن بيضة مش كورة زى ما بيقولوا عليها.”

“بيضة كبيرة قوى… والبيضة زى ما أنت عارف ليها راس رفيعه شويه  وقعر مليان بس من الجناب شكلها واحد، مافيهاش أختلاف. عشان كده الراس هيه القطب الشمالى والقعر هو الجنوبى… فهمت حاجة يا حبيبى؟”

 “نص نص… طيب ودرب اللبانة؟”

 “درب اللبانة بقى مش عارف أشرحهالك أزاى! لكن فيه كام عالم فلك بيقول أن بعد أربعة مليون سنة هاتندمج مجرتنا – اللى هى درب اللبانة – مع مجرة أندروميدا. ومش ها يبقى فيه حاجة أسمها درب اللبانة أساسآ فما تشغلش بالك بالموضوع ده دلوقتى لغاية ما نشوف أذا كانت النظرية دى صح ولا غلط!”

 “أوكى… ممكن بقى أروح أسأل ماما حاجات تانيه؟”

 “لا لا لا… سيب ماما خالص دلوقتى أنت مش عايز تاكل محشى ولا أيه؟”

“تعالى أسألك انا بقى سؤال مجننى… خلينا نتسلى شويه لغاية ما المحشى يستوى .”

“قول لى أزاى القانون يمنع الناخب اللى عليه أحكام قضائية أنه يمارس حقه الأنتخابى وفى نفس الوقت يدى المرشح اللى أدين فى قضايا أغتيال أو أرهاب الحق أنه يترشح فى الأنتخابات وكمان يمثل الشعب فى البرلمان؟!”

 “بابا… أنت بتزعـق لى لما بأقول حاجات قله أدب!”

 “قلة أدب أيه؟”

 “يعنى أرد ولا ها تزعق؟”

 “لأ رد – هو أنت عارف الأجابه؟”

 “طبعآ يا بابا… أنت فاكرنى لسه صغير؟”

 “عارف لو بجد جاوبتلى صح  على السؤال ده… هاجيب لك البلاى ستيشن و أى حاجة أنت عايزها (ده أنا هاموت و أعرف الأجابة أساساً).”

 “طيب هاشرح لك بس من غير كلام وحش عشان ماما ما تزعلش… وأنت أفهم لوحدك، أوكى؟”

 “أوكى يا جاليليو… قول لى بقى ياعبقرى الأجابه أيه.”

 “ده بالظبط يا بابا زى ما كنت بأبوس شوقية بنت عم حسونة البواب فى سلم العمارة.”

 “نهارك أسود.”

 “أستنى يا بابا… أنا عارف أن دى قلة أدب، بس دى مش أجابة السؤال!”

 “قصدك أيه؟”

 “أن عم حسونة بعد ما شافنى بأبوس بنته، يقول لى هات خمسة جنيه تمن البوسه.”

“فهمت قصدى يا بابا… عرفت ده يبقى أسمه أيه؟”

 “وطى على المحشى يا حبيبتى أحنا نازلين نجيب البلاى ستيشن.”

 “بابا، تحب أقول لك قانون الصكوك الجديد ها يعمل أيه فى البلد؟”

 “يخرب بيتك! أنت عملت أيه تانى فى شوقية يا سافل؟”

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De paradox van de Egyptische revolutie

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 Door Osama Diab

De Egyptische revolutie was een geval van collectieve en spontane genialiteit. Maar dit succes in het verkopen van de opstand kwam op een prijs

Thursday 18 April 2013

Arabic version

Photo: © Zaza Bertrand

Photo: © Zaza Bertrand

Twee factoren versterkten de slagkracht van de Egyptische revolutie: ten eerste was men zich volledig bewust van de impact van de beelden die de wereld werden ingestuurd en besefte men hoe belangrijk deze waren in de perceptie van de gebeurtenissen.

Men was ervan overtuigd dat deze revolutie een rijke erfenis zou nalaten. Honderdduizenden mobiele telefoons en honderden professionele camera’s registreerden elk lied, vlag, kwetsuur, dode, traan, lach, schot en gebed. De zoekopdracht ‘Egyptian revolution’ levert op Google alleen al in het Engels negen miljoen beelden op. En dan hebben we het nog niet over het aantal zoekresultaten in andere talen.

Ten tweede was er de nood aan steun. Er was het verlangen te kunnen rekenen op de sympathie, de empathie, het inzicht en de erkenning van de hele wereld.

Om succesvol te zijn en sympathie op te wekken, moest de revolutie zich inpassen in de idealen die de westerse media propageren. Aangezien men dit besefte, was er geen tekort aan Engelstalige spandoeken op het Tahrirplein, klaar om door de camera’s geregistreerd en doorgestuurd te worden.

Een van de meest bekende en centrale spandoeken op het Tahrirplein was “het volk wil de val van het regime”, het motto van de revolutie, zowel in het Arabisch als het Engels.

Een jongeman droeg een tweetalig bord waarop stond “Facebook tegen iedere tiran”, wat benadrukt dat het geschoolde, stedelijke Egyptenaren uit de middenklasse waren die deze opstand leidden. Betogers, de ene al wat vloeiender in het Engels dan de andere, waren enthousiast om de internationale media toe te spreken om de sympathie van de internationale gemeenschap te winnen.

“We zullen niet zwijgen, of je nu moslim, christen of atheist bent”, riep een salafistische manifestant in perfect Amerikaans Engels. Door het discours van de Westerse media over mensen die eruitzien als hem, is de jongeman het soort persoon naast wie men zich in een vliegtuig niet helemaal comfortabel zouvoelen. Het feit dat hij sprak zoals ‘wij’ en ‘onze’ warden deelde, bezorgde de Egyptische revolutie een gunstig imago.

“Dit is heel slecht, voor mij en mijn regering” roept een andere, oudere, man in zwaar gebroken Engels terwijl hij op weg is naar één van de meest dodelijke demonstraties, die van 28 januari 2011. “Ik heb geen eten, ik heb niets. Ik en mijn kinderen. Ik ga vandaag sterven!” Hoe kan iemand niet sympathiseren met deze ongewapende en niet-ideologische oude man, wiens enige ambitie is zichzelf en zijn kleine kinderen te kunnen voeden?

Dit is hoe een revolutie eruitziet in een tijdperk van geglobaliseerde media: de Egyptische revolutie moest de hele wereld, de media, politici, NGO’s en burgers overtuigen. Men moest ter plaatse public relations en marketingcampagnes verzorgen en leren omgaan met de media die het Tahrirplein massaal inpalmden.

Eén van de belangrijkste en sterkste beelden van de revolutie was dat van koptische christenen die een menselijke cirkel vormden rond moslims om hen te beschermen tijdens het bidden. Beelden van vrouwelijke dokters die de gewonde betogers behandelden en video’s van vreugdevolle liederen en humoristische spreekkoren hebben de harten en de geesten van miljoenen overal ter wereld beroerd.

Hoe zou een politicus kunnen verantwoorden dat hij een dergelijke egalitaire revolutie niet zou steunen? Hoe kan om het even welk systeem dat vrijheid en democratie predikt een dictator steunen tegen deze eisen in van de betogers en hun demografische samenstelling?

Photo: ©Harry Gruyaert

Photo: ©Harry Gruyaert

Aanhangers van de revolutie waren er snel bij om deze krachtige beelden te verspreiden. Deze beantwoorden nauwelijks aan de stereotypen gecreëerd door de wereldmedia en hun post-Koude-Oorlogsdiscours, waarin naties met een meerderheid aan moslims officieel de voormalige Sovjetstaten hebben vervangen als de ‘Andere’ van het Westen. Het was precies dit verwerpen van identiteitsdenken dat noodzakelijk was om Mubarak ten val te brengen. Het was het ongeplande doel en het onuitgesproken akkoord om, door nadrukkelijk nietideologisch te zijn, de wereldleiders moreel te verplichten der evolutie te steunen.

Wanneer we kijken naar de ontwikkeling van de Amerikaanse reactie tijdens die achttien dagen, wordt meteen duidelijk dat dit spontane, aan de basis ontsproten propagandaplan bijzonder doeltreffend was. In de vroege dagen van de revolutie weigerde de Amerikaanse vice-president Joe Biden Mubarak als een dictator te omschrijven, hoewel een eindeloos aantal internationale organisaties, inclusief Bidens eigen ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken, Egypte veroordeelden vanwege zijn bijzonder zwakke mensenrechtenreputatie. President Obama zelf had eerder Egyptes corrupte dictator omschreven als een ‘vriend’ en een ‘factor van stabiliteit’.

Enkele dagen later begon minister van Buitenlandse Zaken Hillary Clinton te praten over ‘hervorming’, maar nog niet over ‘verandering’, toen ze commentaar gaf over wat er diende te gebeuren in Egypte in de periode die later bekend is geworden als een revolutie.

Naar het einde van de achttien dagen toe, veranderde de Obama-administratie haar toon drastisch. Mubarak was niet langer een ‘vriend’ of een ‘factor van stabiliteit’ en in plaats van ‘hervorming’ werd er gepraat over onmiddellijk opstappen. “De transitie moet nu beginnen,” zei president Obama enkele dagen voor de val van de Egyptische dictator.

Het was, minstens ten dele, een gevolg van de kracht van het beeld. Als de minste hint van identiteitspolitiek zichtbaar was geweest op het Tahrirplein, dan zou Mubarak nu nog steeds aan de macht zijn met steun en hulp van de VS.

Als iemand dit revolutionaire festival had willen vergallen, zou de gemakkelijkste wijze geweest zijn de Israëlische of de Amerikaanse vlag te verbranden en Fox News de rest te laten doen. Men kan zich afvragen waarom Mubarak hier niet aan gedacht heeft.

De revolutie bereikte pas zijn kritische massa en keerpunt nadat duidelijk werd dat we niet méér vroegen dan de rechten die men in het Westen geniet. Wij zijn geen radicale islamisten.

Wij zijn niet antisemitisch. Wij zijn geen militante marxisten. We gebruiken Facebook net zoals u en we spreken net zo goed Engels als u. We passen niet in één van de door de media gecreëerde vooroordelen die u van ‘ons’ hebt.

Dit was een klassiek geval van collectieve intelligentie. Ik twijfel er geen seconde aan dat de meeste betogers werkelijk in deze waarden geloven, maar het talent om de revolutie te promoten en te marketen zonder media-, reclame- of PR-plan is niets minder dan een daad van collectieve en spontane genialiteit.

Een discours dat zich zo expliciet op deze ontegensprekelijk universele en nobele waarden beroept, kan toch geen weerstand opwekken?

Het addertje onder het gras

Om de steun van de wereld te winnen, gebruikten de revolutionairen een politiek correct discours over vrijheid en democratie. Het probleem zit hem echter in de aard van het concept “discours.” Elk discours impliceert namelijk een kluwen van vaak onuitgesproken conceptuele relaties tussen objecten, concepten, symbolen, beelden, waarden en axioma’s. Binnen een discours is een uitspraak over de ene waarde onlosmakelijk verbonden met een ander concept, dat op zijn beurt weer vasthangt aan een ander beeld, enzoverder.

Het is belangrijk zich bewust te zijn van dit “relationalisme” binnen elk discours, moreel systeem of waardenkader.

Binnen het discours van de liberale democratie in zijn neoliberale vorm bestaat er bijvoorbeeld een conceptuele relatie tussen het idee van “moderne, economisch gezonde natie” enerzijds en vrije handel en een gederegulariseerde economie anderzijds. Ideeën zoals zelfvoorziening,

welvaartsstaat, een betere verdeling van de welvaart, en maatregelen om de nationale industrie te beschermen worden allemaal als verouderd bestempeld. Ze worden niet meer toegestaan. Ze zijn kortweg geen onderdeel van het discours waarin we ons ingeschreven hebben. De Amerikaanse filosofe Judith Butler beschrijft discours dan ook als “de grenzen van wat aanvaarbaar is om gezegd te worden, de grenzen van de mogelijke waarheid”.

Het concept van relationalisme helpt ons te begrijpen wat er nu verkeerd zou kunnen zijn met een discours van vreedzame protesten, egalitarisme, technologisch determinisme, enzovoort. Velen in Egypte zijn akkoord met de waarden die vandaag als westers worden beschouwd, zoals gendergelijkheid, algemeen stemrecht, vrijheid van religie, enzovoort.

Anderzijds weigeren velen het westerse liberale democratische model te erkennen als de enige geldige manier om landen te besturen en een samenleving te doen functioneren. Ze willen het niet kritiekloos en blindelings overnemen zonder ervoor te zorgen dat het beantwoordt aan de ei genheden van de natie, in het bijzonder wanneer het economische luik een ernstige hypotheek legt op de mogelijkheid voor arme families om brood op de plank te brengen.

Een diplomatiek telegram, getiteld Volgende stappen om de democratie in Egypte vooruit te helpen, gelekt en gepubliceerd door Wikileaks, somt op hoe ogenschijnlijk louter humanistische waarden vaak gekoppeld zijn een economischeagenda.

“USAID’s nieuwe programma Rechtvaardigheid voor families zal NGO’s engageren om het publiek meer bewust te maken van de wettelijke rechten van vrouwen en kinderen, alsook de wettelijke diensten die beschikbaar zijn voor deze achtergestelde groepen. Deze inspanningen zullen ook stuiten op reactionaire kritiek in de trant van ‘omkoping’ en ‘bemoeienis’”, leest men in het Amerikaanse diplomatieke telegram.

De zin die onmiddellijk volgt op deze ogenschijnlijk altruïstische bezorgdheid voor Egyptische achtergestelde groepen luidt: “[We moeten] erkennen dat economische hervormingen democratische hervormingen aanvullen: we moeten het Vrijhandelsakkoord nieuw leven inblazen en advies uitbrengen aan het Congres bij de eerstvolgende politieke opening.”

We leven in een periode van volatiliteit die deels het resultaat is van een te grote aanpassing aan het westerse economische en politieke model. Egypte is bedolven onder een torenhoge schuld en is op een systematische manier verarmd door corrupte privatiseringsschema’s en slechte arbeidsomstandigheden.

Als we hier kritiek op uiten, betekent dit niet dat we tegen vrouwen- of minderhedenrechten zijn. Deze kritiek past niet gemakkelijk binnen het politiek-economische discours van de westerse liberale democratie zoals verwoord in het telegram, dat zichzelf het monopolie op dergelijke waarden toemeet.

Het westerse model is immers hét model geworden, omdat politieke en militaire macht geconcentreerd is in het Westen.

Sinds de revolutie heeft Egypte vrije en eerlijke verkiezingen beleefd, maar deze hebben alleen een inefficiënt parlement en inefficiënte opeenvolgende kabinetten opgeleverd. Dit bewijst dat verkiezingen en een ornamentele liberale democratische structuur niet per definitie de levens van tientallen miljoenen arme en gemarginaliseerde Egyptenaren zal verbeteren.

In tegendeel, de kans is zelfs groot dat hun situatie zou verslechteren.

De te grote nadruk op verkiezingen (de hoeksteen van een liberale democratie) gaf macht aan partijen en groepen die over enorme middelen beschikken. Deze stelden hen in staat om campagne te voeren en sociale netwerken te bouwen in zowel rurale gebieden als stedelijke centra.

Dit is duidelijk in het geval bij de Partij van Vrijheid en Rechtvaardigheid van de Moslimbroeders, die wordt gefinancierd door een klasse van zakenmannen-miljardairs en die erin slaagde om 47% van de parlementszetels en het presidentschap te winnen. De rijkste man van Egypte, Naguib Sawiris, slaagde er eveneens in om slechts enkele maanden na de oprichting van een politieke partij 15% van de zitjes in het parlement te behalen, ook dankzij zijn miljarden.

Deze verkozen politici hebben hard opgetreden tegen stakingen, weigerden een minimumloon op te leggen in weerwil van een gerechtelijke beslissing, en maakten geen haast bij het uitoefenen van druk op Europese regeringen om Mubaraks activa terug te geven en een deel van Egyptes zware schuld kwijt te schelden.

In plaats daarvan lenen ze geld van het IMF en andere kredietverstrekkers, wat een verwoestend effect kan hebben op de toekomst van de Egyptische economie. Erger nog, dit is de toekomst van Egyptenaren die worden opgezadeld met een schuld voor geleend geld dat ze zelf niet eens hebben kunnen uitgeven en waarvan ze niet hebben kunnen genieten. Als op schulden gebaseerde groei de toekomst van de welvarende Europese Unie op het spel zet, dan kan men zich inbeelden welk verwoestend effect dit kan hebben op arme ontwikkelingslanden.

Dit alles gebeurt terwijl andere bronnen voor de financiering van publieke uitgaven en de beperking van het begrotingstekort duidelijk voorhanden zijn.

Wist u dat bronnen dicht bij de Wereldbank schatten dat meer dan $132 miljard uit Egypte verdween tijdens het bewind van Mubarak? Wist u dat belastingsachterstallen in Egypte 65 miljard Egyptische pond bedragen? Wist u dat de grootste bedrijven in Egypte slechts 0,5% betalen, zelfs al verdienden ze miljarden nettowinsten ingevolge belastingsvrijstellingen (of beter gunsten) speciaal ontworpen voor bedrijven die dicht bij het voormalige regime stonden?

Wist u dat het Verenigd Koninkrijk weigert de activa van het Mubarak-regime te bevriezen hoewel de EU een sanctielijst had uitgevaardigd die de activa van mensen die tot het voormalige regime hoorden bevriest? Wist u dat Egypte een hoogste belastingsaanslag van 20% heeft, wat betekent dat een familie die 1000 dollar per maand verdient evenveel moet betalen als een zakenman die dat bedrag op een minuut binnenrijft?

Wist u dat als u 420 Egyptische pond (50 Euro) per maand verdient, u op 10% wordt belast terwijl sommige ondernemingen die miljoenen verdienen 0,5% betalen door belastingsmanipulatie? Zelfs de meest kapitalistische economieën hebben een progressieve belasting. De Verenigde Staten bijvoorbeeld, hét bastion van het kapitalisme, hebben een hogere belastingsaanslag van 35%.

Nog steeds zijn er verkozen islamistische parlementsleden die de IMF-narratieven herhalen en spreken over buitenlandse directe investeringen en BNP-groei als een wondermedicijn voor al onze politieke, sociale en economische problemen.

Daarbij vertonen ze een schokkend gebrek aan creativiteit en een onvermogen om buiten de lijnen van de IMF-aanbevelingen te denken. Het is het vermelden waard dat we in de jaren voorafgaand aan de revolutie getuige waren van één van Egyptes grootste economische groeiperiodes en buitenlandse directe investeringen in zijn moderne geschiedenis.

Tegelijkertijd bereikten sociale frustratie en politieke onrust hun hoogste peil uit de recente geschiedenis. Als groei en sociale vrede al niet omgekeerd evenredig zijn, dan kan men ten minste stellen dat ze zeker niet direct evenredig zijn.

Dit is hoe discours gerelateerd is aan macht en media. Het bouwt een raamwerk van wat acceptabel, legitiem en juist is, en is zodanig dwingend dat het mensen niet toelaat om buiten dit kader te denken, spreken en handelen. Zelfs als de vrijheid om buiten dit raamwerk te opereren technisch gezien bestaat, dan mag men zich verwachten aan pasklare beschuldigingen als ‘islamitisch extremisme’, ‘links radicalisme’, ‘antisemitisme’ of ‘afgunst voor de rijken’.

In een wereld die nog steeds lijdt aan een postkoloniale kater, beschrijven deze woorden van Jean-Paul Sartre, hoewel geschreven in 1961, nog steeds adequaat de keuze van de hedendaagse ‘Oriënt’ tussen algehele aanvaarding of verwerping van het westerse modernisme:

“Hun schrijvers en dichters hebben met ongelooflijk geduld geprobeerd ons uit te leggen dat onze waarden slecht strookten met de werkelijkheid waarin zij leven, dat zij deze niet volledig konden verwerpen, maar ook niet helemaal konden aanvaarden. Grof gezegd bedoelden ze: ‘u maakt van ons gedrochten: uw humanisme geeft ons een universele waarde, maar uw racistische praktijken verbijzonderen ons.’”

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كيف يمكن لنجاح الثورة المصرية أن يُفشِلها؟

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بقلم أسامة دياب

استطاعت الثورة المصرية من خلال قوة الصورة إلغاء الصور النمطية التي كانت قد ترسخت في الأذهان وتكونت عنا، و لكن هناك ثمن لا بد أن يدفع في المقابل.

الاثنين ٢٥ مارس ٢٠١٣.

Dutch version

Photo: © Zaza Bertrand

Photo: © Zaza Bertrand

أدى عاملان إلى زيادة العنصر الأدائي في الثورة المصرية: أولهما الوعي الكامل بقوة الصور التي يتم إرسالها إلى العالم وإدراك لمدى تأثيرها على تطور الأحداث. كان من المؤكد أن تلك الثورة ستترك ورائها ميراث غني، لهذا قامت مئات الألاف من كاميرات الموبايل ومئات من كاميرات وكالات الأنباء بتصوير وتسجيل كل هتاف ورفرفة علم وإصابة وحالة وفاة ودمعة وضحكة وكل طلق ناري وكل صلاة، فإذا قمت بالبحث باللغة الإنجليزية عن  (الثورة المصرية) على محرك جوجل فستسفر نتائج البحث عن حوالي 9 ملايين صورة، ناهيك عن البحث باللغات الأخرى

العامل الآخر هو الاحتياج للدعم أو الرغبة في أن يتعاطف العالم مع الصراع الدائر وأن يشعر به ويدركه ويعترف بوجوده

اضطرت الثورة لضمان نجاحها ولكسب التعاطف تبني نماذج ومُثُل تروج لها وسائل الإعلام الغربية، لهذا لم يخلو ميدان التحرير من لافتات مكتوبة باللغة الإنجليزية صورتها الكاميرات وقامت بنشرها. إحدى أشهر اللافتات بميدان التحرير هي تلك التي تم تعليقها بوسط الميدان وحملت شعار الثورة الأشهر “الشعب يريد إسقاط النظام” باللغتين العربية و الإنجليزية

كما حمل أحد الشباب لافتة كتب عليها “فيسبوك على كل ظالم” باللغتين العربية والإنجليزية للتأكيد على أن الطبقة الوسطى المتعلمة هي من تقود هذه الثورة. حرص المتظاهرون على التحدث إلى وسائل الإعلام الأجنبية بالإنجليزية – بدرجات مختلفة من الإجادة – لكسب تعاطف المجتمع الدولي

 هكذا صاح متظاهر سلفي بأعلى صوته مستخدماً لغة إنجليزية أمريكية ممتازة: “لن نصمت، إن كنا مسلمين أو مسيحيين أو ملحدين”. أدى خطاب وسائل الإعلام الغربية عن من يشبهون هذا الشاب إلى تصنيفه تلقائياً ضمن نوعية الناس الذين قد لا يرتاح المرء تماماً للجلوس بجوارهم في الطائرة، لكنه استطاع بحديثه مثلهم و بمشاركته لنفس القيم الإنسانية التي يؤمنون بها رسم صورة مُحببة للثورة المصرية

“صاح رجل عجوز آخر مستخدماً إنجليزية ركيكة جداً وهو يتجه إلى إحدى أخطر المظاهرات التي أقيمت في الثامن والعشرين من يناير 2011 “هذا وضع سيء، لي ولحكومتي” . “لا أملك الطعام. لا أملك أي شيء. أنا و أطفالي. سأموت اليوم!” كيف لا يتعاطف المرء مع هذا العجوز الأعزل الذي لا يحمل أي أيديولوجيات ولا يطمح سوى لإطعام نفسه وأطفاله

هذا هو الشكل الذي تتخذه الثورة في عصر عولمة وسائل الإعلام، لهذا احتاجت الثورة المصرية إلى إقناع العالم أجمع بوسائل إعلامه وسياسييه ومجتمعه المدني ومواطنيه، واحتاجت إلى القيام بحملات علاقات عامة وتسويق تلقائية وتعلم كيفية التعامل مع ميدان أثقله التواجد الإعلامي الكثيف

كانت إحدى أهم و أقوى صور الثورة عندما صنع الأقباط جدار بشري أحاط بالمسلمين وحماهم أثناء صلاتهم، كما تمكنت صور لطبيبات يعالجن إصابات المتظاهرين ومقاطع فيديو لأغاني مبهجة وهتافات طريفة من أسر قلوب وعقول الملايين حول العالم

كيف لا يساند أي سياسي ثورة كتلك، قامت لتطالب بالمساواة في الحقوق؟ كيف لأي نظام يدعو إلى الحرية والديمقراطية أن ينحاز لديكتاتور ضد متظاهرين لديهم تلك المطالب المشروعة؟

حرص المساندون للثورة على نشر تلك الصور القوية، وهي صور لا تتفق مع أي من الصور النمطية التي خلقتها وسائل الإعلام الدولية في خطابها من بعد الحرب الباردة والتي قامت من خلاله باستبدال دول الإتحاد السوفيتي السابق كغريم للغرب بالبلاد ذات الاغلبية المسلمة. هذا هو بالتحديد نوع الرفض لأي هوية سياسية الذي كان ضروري لرحيل مبارك، كان الاتفاق غير المعلن هو إحراج قادة العالم وإجبارهم على مساندة الثورة عن طريق المبالغة في عدم اعتناق أي أيديولوجية

Photo: ©Harry Gruyaert

Photo: ©Harry Gruyaert

عند النظر إلى تسلسل ردود أفعال الإدارة الأمريكية على مدار ال18 يوم، نتيقن أن تلك الخطة الدعائية الشعبية والعفوية نجحت إلى حد كبير. في أول أيام الثورة، رفض نائب رئيس الولايات المتحدة “جو بيدين” وصف مبارك بالدكتاتور رغم إدانة العديد من المنظمات الدولية – ومن ضمنها وزارة الخارجية الأمريكية نفسها – للنظام بمصر لسجله المتواضع فيما يخص حقوق الإنسان، بل أن الرئيس أوباما نفسه كان قد سبق ووصف الدكتاتور المصري الفاسد ب”الصديق” و بأنه “قوة استقرار للمنطقة”

 بدأت وزيرة الخارجية الأمريكية “هيلاري كلينتون” بعد بضعة أيام في الحديث عن “الإصلاح” (و ليس “التغيير”) عند تعليقها على ما يجب حدوثه في مصر خلال ما أصبح يعرف لاحقاً بالثورة

غيرت إدارة أوباما من نبرتها تماماً قرب نهاية ال18 يوم،. ولم يعد مبارك “صديق” أو “قوة استقرار” ولم يعد الحديث عن “الإصلاح” بل عن التنحي الفوري. صرح الرئيس أوباما بأن “عملية إنتقال السلطة يجب أن تبدأ الآن” قبل سقوط الدكتاتور المصري ببضعة أيام. حدث هذا، جزئياً على الأقل، بفضل قوة الصورة. كان أبسط تلميح لوجود أي هوية سياسية في ميدان التحرير كفيل بالإبقاء على مبارك في الحكم بدعم أمريكي

كانت أبسط الطرق لتخريب هذا المهرجان الثوري هي حرق العلم الإسرائيلي أو الأمريكي وترك باقي المهمة ل”فوكس نيوز”. يتعجب المرء: كيف لم يفكر مبارك في هذا؟

لم تبلغ الثورة ذروة شعبيتها إلا بعد أن أوصل المتظاهرين رسالتهم بوضوح: نحن لا نطالب سوى بنفس الحقوق التي تتمتعون بها في الغرب. لسنا إسلاميين راديكاليين، ولسنا معاديين للسامية، ولسنا ماركسيين مسلحين. نحن مثلكم: نستخدم الفيسبوك ونجيد تحدث الإنجليزية كما أننا نختلف عن الصور النمطية التي كونتها لديكم وسائل الإعلام عنا

كان هذا مثال كلاسيكي على الذكاء الجماعي، وأنا لا أشك ولو للحظة في أن غالبية المتظاهرين كانوا يؤمنون فعلاً بتلك القيم، ولكن القدرة على تسويق الثورة والترويج لها دون أي خطة إعلامية أو إعلانية أو خطة علاقات عامة هي عمل جماعي وعفوي عبقري ينبع من موهبة فذة

من الصعب الاعتراض على الالتزام بهذا الخطاب اللائق، ولكن الخطاب السياسي عبارة عن مجموعة من الرموز، ومهما كانت مكوناته عامة وشاملة وسامية فهي ليست كيانات منفصلة تعمل في الفراغ بل هي متعلقة برموز ومفاهيم أخرى تأتي كلها عادةً في حزمة واحدة

أين إذاً العيب في ما حدث؟

ما هو إذاً الخطاب بالضبط؟ و ما مشكلة محاولة الالتزام به طالما اتفقنا مع القيم التي يروج لها؟ يصف الفيلسوف الفرنسي “ميشيل فوكو” الخطاب قائلاً: “هو مجموعة من التسلسلات والرموز”، فهو يرى أن الخطاب يحدد إطار ما يمكن أن تقوله ويكون مقبولا من قبل المؤسسات ذات السلطة والنفوذ. أما الفيلسوفة الأمريكية “جوديث باتلر” فتصف الخطاب ب “حدود الحديث المقبول، حدود الحقيقة الممكنة”

 وتجيب النظرية العلائقية على السؤال المشروع حول ما يمكن أن يعيب المظاهرات السلمية ومبدأ المساواة ونظرية الحتمية التكنولوجية، إلخ

أي خطاب هو عبارة عن نظام مُكَوَن من بعض القيم المترابطة ومن المهم أن ندرك المفاهيم التي تتعلق بعضها ببعض في كل خطاب أو نظام أخلاقي أو مجموعة قيم، حيث توجد علاقات مفاهيمية بين الرموز والأفكار والمواضيع والتصريحات يشكلون معاً بنيانا من المعرفة

فعلى سبيل المثال، العلاقة المفهومية التي تربط بين الدولة الحديثة ذات الإقتصاد القوي وبين التجارة الحرة المتحررة من القيود هي علاقة مُضمنة في الخطاب الديمقراطي الليبرالي في هيئته النيوليبرالية، وهو خطاب تصبح فيه أفكار مثل الاكتفاء الذاتي أو دولة الرفاه أو تقسيم أفضل للثروة أو إجراءات حماية الصناعات الوطنية جميعها أفكار قديمة وتشكل عائقا للنمو الاقتصادي وخلق الثروة، فهي باختصار لا تشكل جزء من الخطاب الذي التزمنا به

يتفق الكثيرون مع القيم التي تعتبر في يومنا هذا قيم غربية مثل المساواة بين الجنسين، وحق الاقتراع للجميع بدون تفرقة ليشمل جميع المواطنين البالغين، وحرية العقيدة، إلخ. ولكن يرفض أيضاَ الكثيرون تبني النموذج الغربي الليبرالي الديمقراطي دون تبصر أو تفكير باعتباره الطريقة الوحيدة التي تصلح لإدارة البلاد، وباعتباره النموذج الاجتماعي والاقتصادي الأصلح دون التأكد من ملائمته لخصوصيات البلد خاصة وأن الجانب الاقتصادي منه يشكل تهديداً قوياً لقدرة العائلات الفقيرة في الحصول على الطعام وأساسيات الحياة

توضح برقية دبلوماسية بعنوان “الخطوات التالية لتحقيق التقدم الديمقراطي في مصر” سربتها ونشرتها “ويكيليكس” أن ما قد يبدو كقيم إنسانية خالصة غالباً ما يرتبط بأجندة اقتصادية وسياسية. تقول البرقية الدبلوماسية الأمريكية: “سيدفع برنامج العدالة الأسرية التابع للوكالة الأمريكية للتنمية الدولية المنظمات غير الحكومية إلى زيادة الوعي العام حول الحقوق القانونية للمرأة و الطفل بالإضافة إلى الخدمات القانونية المتاحة لتلك الفئات المتضررة. ستقابل هذه المجهودات بانتقادات رجعية تتهمها بال”رشوة” و بال”تدخل في الشؤون الداخلية”

 يبدو ما سبق انه اهتمام حقيقي وغير أناني بالفئات المتضررة والمُهَمَشة في مصر، و لكن يليه تلك الجملة: “[علينا أن] نقر بأن الإصلاحات الاقتصادية مُكملة للإصلاح الديمقراطي: علينا أن نحيي اتفاقية التجارة الحرة ونُعلم الكونجرس بها في أقرب فرصة ممكنة.” مصر دولة تقيدها الديون وتم إقفارها بشكل ممنهج عن طريق خطط الخصخصة واستغلال العمالة. انتقادنا لهذا لا يعني أننا ضد حقوق المرأة أو الأقليات، و لكنه انتقاد لا يتناسب مع خطاب الديمقراطية الليبرالية الغربية الموجود بالبرقية والذي يسمح لنفسه باحتكار تلك القيم

نعيش في مرحلة من القضايا المُعلقة نتجت جزئياً من الالتزام الزائد بالنموذج الاقتصادي والسياسي الغربي. القوة السياسية والعسكرية تتركز في الغرب، لهذا أصبحت القيم الغربية خصوصا في الجانب الاقتصادي بديهية لا يمكن التشكيك فيها. يشرح “فوكو” قائلاً: “القوة تنتج المعرفة … القوة والمعرفة تؤديان أحدهما للأخرى … لا توجد علاقة قوة دون التكوين المترابط لحقل معرفي … ولا توجد معرفة لا تستلزم وجود وتكوين علاقات قوة”. شهدت مصر منذ الثورة انتخابات حرة ونزيهة ولكنها لم تسفر سوى عن برلمان غير كفء ثم عن حكومات ووزارات غير كفء وهو ما يثبت أن حتى ولو كانت عملية عد الأصوات نزيهة، وحتى ولو كان النظام مُزين ببنية ليبرالية ديمقراطية، فهذا كله لن يحسن من حياة ملايين الفقراء والمهمشين من المصريين، بل في الغالب سيزيدوها سوءا وفقرا

أعطى الاهتمام الزائد بالانتخابات (وهي حجر زاوية الديمقراطية الليبرالية) قوة وسلطة لمجموعات تمتلك موارد ضخمة مكنتها من تنظيم حملات سياسية ومن تأسيس شبكات اجتماعية في المناطق الريفية والمدن. ثروتهم هي التي أدت إلى اتصالهم المباشر بالمجموعات المعنية. يظهر هذا جلياً مع حزب الحرية و العدالة التابع للإخوان المسلمين والذي تموله طبقة من رجال الأعمال فاحشي الثراء، ونجح الحزب في الحصول على 47% من البرلمان بالإضافة إلى كرسي الرئاسة. كما نجح أغنى أغنياء مصر نجيب ساويرس في الحصول بفضل ملايينه على 15% من البرلمان و ذلك بعد بضعة أشهر من تأسيس حزبه السياسي

قام هؤلاء السياسيين المُنتَخًبين بقمع الإضرابات العمالية، ورفضوا فرض حد أدنى للدخل رغم وجود حكم محكمة بذلك، وبدلاً من الضغط على الحكومات الأوروبية لاسترجاع الأموال التي سرقها مبارك وإسقاط بعض من ديون مصر اتجهوا للاقتراض من صندوق النقد الدولي ومُقرِضين آخرين وهو ما قد يدمر الاقتصاد المصري مُستقبلاً، بل ومستقبل المصريين الذين ستغرقهم ديون لم ينفقوها ولم يستفيدوا منها، فإذا كان النمو الاقتصادي المعتمد على القروض يشكل خطراً على بلاد الإتحاد الأوروبي الغنية، علينا أن نتخيل مدى الدمار الذي قد يسببه للبلدان الفقيرة النامية

يحدث كل هذا حين تتوفر بوضوح مصادر أخرى لتمويل الإنفاق الحكومي و التقليل من عجز الموازنة

 هل تعلم أن مصادر قريبة للبنك الدولي قدرت الأموال التي اختفت من مصر في عهد مبارك بأكثر من 132 مليار دولار؟ و هل تعلم أن الضرائب المتأخرة في مصر تُقدر ب65 مليار جنيه مصري؟ و هل تعلم أن بعض أكبر الشركات في مصر تدفع ضرائب قليلة جداً تصل إلى 0.5 % رغم أن أرباحها تقدر بالمليارات نتيجة لإعفاءات ضريبية (أو بالأحرى جمائل) صممت خصيصاً لرجال الأعمال القريبين من النظام السابق؟

 هل تعلم أن المملكة المتحدة ترفض تجميد حسابات نظام مبارك على الرغم من إصدار الإتحاد الأوروبي لقائمة بالحسابات التي تخص النظام السابق و المطلوب تجميدها؟

 هل تعلم أن أعلى شريحة ضريبية في مصر هي 20 %، مما يعني أن العائلة التي تربح ألف دولار شهرياً ورجل الأعمال الذي يربح نفس هذا المبلغ في الدقيقة الواحدة يدفعون نفس الضريبة؟ و هل تعلم أن الفرد الذي يربح 420 جنيه مصري (60 يورو) شهرياً يدفع 10 % من دخله للضرائب بينما تدفع بعض الشركات التي تربح الميارات 0.5 % عن طريق التلاعب الضريبي؟ حتى أكثر الاقتصادات رأسمالية تستخدم نظام تصاعدي للضرائب، فعلى سبيل المثال، في الولايات المتحدة، حصن الرأسمالية، أعلى شريحة ضريبية هي 35 %. لازلنا نرى نوابا إسلاميين مُنتًخًبين يرددون نفس روايات صندوق النقد الدولي ويتحدثون عن الاستثمار الأجنبي المباشر ونمو الناتج المحلي الإجمالي كما لو كانا الحل الشامل لجميع مشاكلنا السياسية والاجتماعية و الاقتصادية مفتقرين إلى أي قدرة إبتكارية أو أي قدرة على التفكير خارج إطار توصيات صندوق النقد الدولي

من الجدير بالذكر أن مصر شهدت في السنوات التي السابقة على أكبر نمو اقتصادي و أكبر تدفق للاستثمار الأجنبي في تاريخها المعاصر، تزامنا مع أعلى مستوى من الإحباط الاجتماعي والاضطراب السياسي تشهده في تاريخها الحديث. فالنمو الاقتصادي والسلام الاجتماعي إن لم يكونا متناسبان عكسياً هم، على الأقل ودون شك، ليسا متناسبان طردياً

 هذه هي العلاقة التي تربط الخطاب بالقوة ووسائل الإعلام، فهو يبني إطار لتحديد كل ما هو مقبول وشرعي وصحيح ويمنع الناس من العمل خارجه. و حتى لو أتيحت عملياً حرية العمل خارج هذا الإطار فسوف يقابل هذا باتهامات جاهزة من نوعية “التطرف الإسلامي” أو “اليسارية الراديكالية” أو “معاداة السامية” أو “حسد الأغنياء”. تنطبق هذه الكلمات ل”جان بول سارتر”، على الرغم من إنها تعود إلى عام 1961، على الاختيار الذي تواجهه بلاد الشرق في يومنا هذا بين القبول أو الرفض الكامل لحداثة الغرب في عالم لا يزال يعاني من أثار الاستعمار والعقلانية الغربية الحديثة: “حاول كُتابهم و شُعرائهم، بصبر كبير، أن يشرحوا لنا أن قيمنا لا تنطبق مع الحقائق التي يعيشونها يومياً، و أنهم لا يستطيعون رفضها كُلياً ولكنهم لا يستطيعون أيضاً هضمها. كانوا يقولون باختصار: أنتم تصنعون منا مسوخ، فلسفتكم الإنسانية تدعي أننا وباقي العالم واحد ولكن أساليبكم العنصرية تُفرقنا.”

This essay first appeared in Cairopolis, a book and photography exhibition about the Egyptian revolution.


الاثنين ٢٥ مارس ٢٠١٣

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Tahrir Square: For the sake of the forsaken

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By Osama Diab

For ordinary Egyptians, Tahrir is now a terrifying black hole, but for its marginalised occupiers, it is a liberator from political and social tyranny.

Wednesday 27 February 2013

Tahrir has become a black hole for ordinary Egyptians but a space of liberty for the marginalised. photo: ©Khaled Diab

Tahrir has become a black hole for ordinary Egyptians but a space of liberty for the marginalised. photo: ©Khaled Diab

“Do you like what’s happening in Tahrir?” taxi drivers ask me everyday on my way back from work, which is near the world-famous square. Fed up with this discussion and my inability to make any “acceptable” argument prompted me to consider moving somewhere that was within walking distance from my office.

For someone who has supported the revolution from the very beginning and throughout its different stages, and against the various counterrevolutionary forces – the remnants of the Mubarak regime, the military and the Muslim Brotherhood – this period has been the most difficult  when it comes to trying to sell and promote the revolution.

Any frequent visitor to Tahrir will notice a change in its demographic composition. The face of this highly symbolic square and its surrounding area has changed beyond recognition over the past two years. Before the revolution erupted, Tahrir was a symbol of state might and prestige, with high-ranking police officers aggressively managing the traffic flow of cars and pedestrians through and around the capital’s most strategic spot.

Within a kilometre of Tahrir in every direction is the highest concentration of state institutions in the country. The monolithic symbol of state bureaucracy, the Mugama’a, the parliament with its two houses, a large number of ministries (including the monstrous Ministry of Interior) are all located on the different ends of the Tahrir square area. The neighbourhood is also home to some of Egypt’s oldest and most luxurious five-star hotels overlooking the Nile, not to mention the famous Egyptian museum, the Arab league building and the former ruling National Democratic Party’s headquarters.

How did this area of potent political power and tight state control descend into a state of lawlessness is beyond most people’s comprehension. Many Egyptians now choose to avoid the area altogether while others are curious about who occupies and controls it. The motivation behind the recent clashes with the police during the revolution’s second anniversary were unclear even to the most competent of political analysts and to opposition forces. It is a defining characteristic of a revolution for events to move faster than the ability of most people to grasp them.

Many of those who occupy and control Egypt’s most institution-laden area are the country’s forsaken: street vendors, homeless teenagers and street children. They have replaced the generals, the police informants and government politicians who used to be in control just two years ago.

Tahrir moved from being the establishment’s headquarters to an area that is becoming rife with anti-establishment behaviour. It attracts the homeless, including children, rebel female activists, homosexuals, street vendors, substance abusers, etc. The groups who were the most marginalised for different reasons have found a refuge in an area completely liberated from oppressive state and societal authority. The occupation of Egypt most strategic square kilometre is a reminder of a triumph of the oppressed over the oppressor. For the outsider, Tahrir might have turned into a frightening, dark, and dirty black hole but for its occupiers it’s a breeze of freedom manifested in the absence of unjust authority.

The changing demographic make-up of Tahrir Square has turned it into a different world. No longer does it relate to the outer world where the state is gradually reemerging and playing its typical role of trying to control and dominate the public sphere. While the revolution outside of Tahrir is mostly defined as its first 18 days, in Tahrir, it has no clear start or end. It’s an ongoing feud with the authorities, society and the state. It is the fight of the marginalised to claim, even to grab, their share of the public sphere.

The revolution is no longer a well-packaged commodity produced by the so-called “Facebook generation”. It’s no longer a unified movement of educated and politically aware young voices who are able to organise, brand, rebrand and promote the revolution as a “civilised”, acceptable and legitimate movement in a near-Utopian setting.

Some people’s dislike of the current Tahrir occupation, and their disquiet towards its occupants, is partly classist and partly practical, because of the inconvenience to the flow of traffic they cause for commuters on their way to work. However, for the marginalised of Tahrir, this negativity is a proof of life, an affirmation of the viability and effectiveness of their actions. Unlike the Facebook revolutionaries, Tahrir’s occupiers have no desire to please society or cater to its norms. Their struggle, in a way, is against the social order, and so upsetting polite society is something for them to aspire to.

The dominant and privileged classes of society have acknowledged these groups’ wretched existence for the first time. Finally,  they are beginning to ask, Who are these people?. We denounce and disapprove of violence but did we listen to them when they were peaceful? Were they given any other option to be heard other than through the sound of their stones? Is this in a way not our violence echoed and thrown back at us?

For the “Facebook generation”, the revolution and the occupation of Tahrir was a means to an end that involved a vision for a freer society. An integral part of their strategy was to engage the wider community and convince it of the revolution and cater to its socially acceptable norms, which is why the social impact of the 18-day revolution was rather limited, despite its remarkable political impact.

On the other hand, for the marginalised of today’s Tahrir, who operate outside the societal framework, the revolution is the end, not a means. They for the most part lack the skills and the social acceptability to engage with and persuade the larger community of the rightness of their struggle. For that reason, they don’t aim for a better world, but just a tiny square of the world where they exercise a degree of control and enjoy a sense of ownership, even if it’s over a space that is frightening, dark and dirty to others.

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Egypt’s rebels without a pause

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By Khaled Diab

The failure of Egypt’s new leaders to address the needs and aspirations of young people means the revolution will not stop until there is real change.

Thursday 20 December 2012

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has set his successors a hard act to follow… he managed the remarkable feat of going from hero to zero in little more than 24 hours.

After days of escalating Israeli-Palestinian violence that threatened to spill over into a full-blown war and even a wider regional conflict, Morsi bucked the expectations of doubters and succeeded in brokering a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Gaza, eliciting a freak chorus of praise from all sides of the trenches: from Hamas, Israel, many Egyptians and even the United States.

The acclaimed ceasefire, which avoided the death, destitution and destruction of the Gaza war of 2008/9, went into effect on Wednesday 21 November. Rather than rest on his laurels for a while and bask in the glory of Egypt’s minor diplomatic victory – which highlighted and underscored the power of diplomacy over violence – Morsi decided to seize the moment.

No sooner had the Israeli missiles and Palestinian rockets fallen silent than the Egyptian president decided to drop a massive political bombshell on the home front. A day after the ceasefire, on November 22, Morsi delivered a declaration which effectively immunises him and the Islamist-dominated constituent assembly – which then hurriedly approved Egypt’s controversial draft constitution pending a referendum – from legal challenges from the judiciary or opponents.

Although Morsi insisted his move was a temporary measure, which would last only as long as it took for the new constitution to enter into force, and was designed to “protect the revolution”, opposition figures and revolutionaries were unconvinced, describing the President’s ambitions as being that of a “new pharaoh” and the declaration as a “coup against legitimacy”.

Many in Egypt saw the timing of this move as more than just a coincidence, with some going as far as to suggest that Morsi had received a nod and a wink from visiting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to launch his bid to become Egypt’s new, American-backed dictator-in-chief.

We do politics differently now

Although Washington seems to look favourably on Morsi as the lesser of many evils for American regional interests, what seems the most likely is that the Egyptian president decided to reward himself for his success and prematurely cash in on his unexpected moment of popularity both within and outside Egypt by indulging in an impulsive act of flagrant opportunism – which has backfired spectacularly.

But even if the president has now, under immense popular pressure, reversed his decree, though not many of its rulings, he betrayed a seriously flawed understanding of the republic of which he has become the first democratically elected leader: the majority of Egyptians did not vote for dictatorship, and the Egypt that accepts autocracy is, like the past, a foreign country: we do politics differently now.

Most Egyptians, particularly the youth who spearheaded the revolution, no longer have the stomach for a “new pharaoh”, especially after all the sacrifices they have made to win their freedom (even if it is only partial, for now), and have developed a strong appetite for greater people power.

That is why Morsi’s attempt to impersonate ousted former president Hosni Mubarak was met by widespread contempt, opposition and anger… and in that longstanding Egyptian tradition, mockery and humour, such as the teenage protesters who placed a surgical mask on a statue in Cairo of Latin American revolutionary Simon Bolivar, presumably to protect his bronze eyes and lungs against the stinging, suffocating effects of teargas.

Since the fateful decree, millions of Egyptians have poured out on to the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, Mahalla and other towns and cities across the country to protest Morsi’s actions and the referendum, slated for Saturday 15 December, on the draft constitution which reformist Egyptians see as undemocratic and non-inclusive.

So many protesters came out to reoccupy Tahrir that one wit demanded the expansion of the world-famous square in anticipation of future missteps by the Egyptian president.

And in scenes reminiscent of Mubarak’s final days, the crowds chanted: “The people want to bring down the regime”, and vowed that they would not vacate the square until their demands were met. “Morsi has done in less than five months what it took Mubarak 30 years to achieve. With this latest move, he has messed up big time,” one young Egyptian diplomat observed. “I think his days are numbered.”

The new wave of protests has led to speculation as to whether Egypt’s stalled revolution has resumed. To me, it looks like we are entering the third phase of revolt: the first was against Mubarak, the second against the generals who replaced him, and now people are regrouping to take on Morsi and his Islamist cohorts.

Revolutionary generation

To many, the battle lines in the current standoff are between Egypt’s new Islamist rulers and the disgruntled secular opposition who had started the revolution but were apparently unable to finish it. While this Islamist-secularist division is partly true, it oversimplifies an extremely complex situation of overlapping alliances and rivalries.

Other battle lines include pro-revolution versus anti-revolution, rich-poor, women-men, democratic-autocratic, neoliberal-progressive, socialist-conservative, etc. Throughout nearly two years of upheaval and change, one of the most constant divides has been a generational one, between the more privileged older strata of society and the more marginalized youth. This is reflected in every opposition movement, including the Muslim Brotherhood, whose younger, more liberal, pro-revolutionary members broke away from the anti-revolutionary elders last year to join their fellow revolutionaries on the streets and squares of Egypt.

As was the case in February 2011 against Mubarak and in November 2011 against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), though people of all backgrounds and ages were out on the streets, the bulk of the protesters were young. “I just want to say how brave these young kids are,” one protester, Ahmed, said upon returning from Tahrir Square. “Not even the choking tear gas was able to stop them from fighting for their freedom.”

The predominantly youthful nature of the protests is a natural by-product of Egypt’s young population – with more than half of Egyptians born after Mubarak came to power in 1981 – and the ongoing marginalisation of young people by the establishment, whether official or opposition. Although many young Egyptians have found success in all walks of life, politically they still occupy the fringes, leaving the main arena open to them the democracy of the street and the utopian possibilities raised by the egalitarian, if short lived, tent Republic of Tahrir last year.

“I believe Egypt’s political revolution is the product of Egypt’s ‘social revolution’,” says Nael Shama, an Egyptian political researcher and columnist. “This young generation is very dynamic and rebellious. They break taboos, revolt against prevailing institutions, norms and mindsets, and heavily assert their presence in public spaces, which usually puts them on a collision course with the official establishment.”

Although it is true that the Egyptian revolt started in January 2011 on the back of its sister revolution further west, events in Tunisia really only provided the spark of hope and inspiration required to trigger the chain reaction which shifted the existing movements for democratic and revolutionary change from the margins of Egyptian society right to its very heart.

During the decade preceding the revolution, calls for change were gathering pace, as reflected in the greater daring civil society and the opposition exhibited towards Mubarak and his men. In a society where criticising the president was once tantamount to political sacrilege, and like cardinal sins carried hefty consequences for the “sinner”, it was remarkable that an entire political movement existed, Kefaya (Enough), which united activists of all political stripes under the single platform of openly demanding that Mubarak step down. It even forced him, in 2005, to organise Egypt’s first multi-candidate presidential election, even if it was hardly free and fair, and this was an early sign of radical change in the making.

Even though Kefaya’s leadership, like much of Egypt’s established opposition, was dominated by older secularists, it had a strong youth element. Moreover, young people came into their own when they pushed beyond the consensus position of the opposition – which called for Hosni Mubarak’s ouster and rejected Gamal Mubarak’s suspected plans to take over power from his father – and set up a movement to agitate for more far-reaching social and economic justice. For example, the 6 April Youth Movement, which is credited with being one of the main driving forces behind the 25 January revolution, was originally established, in the spring of 2008, by young activists, most of whom were well-educated and had not been political beforehand, as an expression of solidarity with striking textile workers in Mahalla al-Kubra.

Moreover, the revolution of the mind, which had been building up gradually in the years prior to the revolution and which exploded in the regime’s face in January 2011, was nowhere more apparent than among youth, who have surpassed their elders in their confidence and courage and their determination to overcome the traditional fear and deference which has paralyzed Egyptian politics and society.

When people think of politically conscious and active youth, their minds tend to wander towards universities, and despite the Mubarak regime’s studious efforts to depoliticise Egyptian student life and the many years of apathy and indifference this spawned, campuses played, as they had in the anti-colonial period, a crucial role in young people’s political formation.

But the radicalisation of youth did not stop at the university gate. Despite or perhaps because of the poor education Egyptian public schools generally provided and their reputation for creating conformity in young minds, Egypt’s state-run school system was unwittingly producing a generation of politicised youth under the regime’s radar, as groundbreaking research carried out by Hania Sobhy of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), convincingly demonstrated.

And this rebellion and disaffection is hardly surprising, given the non-curricular lessons on class, youth exclusion, corruption, arbitrary and harsh punishment and the importance of connections and nepotism pupils receive in school. “The school gives very practical and concrete citizenship lessons to children, lessons about their differentiated entitlement to rights,” describes Sobhy.

One boy who spoke to Sobhy demanded portentously: “To fix things, everyone has to be removed…We need all new people.” As a foretaste of what was to come, less than a month before revolutionary fever gripped the entire country, pupils at semi-private state schools known as national institutes went on strike and organised sit-ins and marches in opposition to a ministerial decree they believed threatened their schools.

The sport of revolution

But perhaps the most surprising breeding ground for revolutionary fervour was not the education system, but sport. Around the world, football fans are rarely associated with politics, and soccer, in fact, has traditionally been regarded as a tool for channelling disaffection and discontentment into harmless club loyalty. But in a country where the government had managed to shut down all outlets for youth discontentment besides the mosque and (later) the internet, many of those who did not find Islamism appealing turned the stands of their favourite football clubs into political salons.

The Egyptian Ultras, as these politicised supporters are known, have truly put the fanatic, in the most positive sense of the word, back into fan. As someone who only has a passing interest in football and finds the petty tribalism of fan culture unappealing, the passion, commitment and courage of the Ultras during the 18 days it took topple Mubarak, and the vital role they played in holding on to Tahrir during the infamous “Battle of the Camels”, has filled me with a great deal of respect for these young idealists.

And the Ultras’ willingness to put their lives on the line for the cause of freedom has helped sustain and revive the revolution when it looked set to falter amid harsh repression. “I think the battles and clashes have kept the revolution alive, in the sense that they materialised the feeling, which persists, that there is still something to fight for (both in the pessimistic sense of ‘we’re not there yet’, and in the sense of not giving up hope),” observes Alya El Hosseiny, a 23-year-old Egyptian graduate student.

But it would be a mistake to think of the Ultras as simply urban warriors, as I discovered for myself at one of their sit-ins. The protest was well-organized and self-policed, and the participants were good-humoured despite their obvious anger at the lack of progress. They sang and danced to a whole repertoire of newly coined revolutionary songs, from the thunderingly defiant to the mockingly ironic. In one sarcastic song, they advised fellow citizens “Keep your head down, hang it low, you live in a democracy, you know.” Given the machismo of football, the Ultras themselves are all men, but there were also plenty of women in the crowd, from the hip and modern to the hip and traditional.

And the longer things change without really changing, the more the aspirations for change will grow. Mubarak and the generals of the SCAF have already learnt this lesson the hard way, but the Islamists are intent on repeating the same errors: the more they try to suppress and contain Egypt’s new revolutionary spirit, the wider it spreads. In fact, the sustained campaign to put the brakes on the revolution has only widened resistance to the previously unpoliticised and the even younger.

“What we’ve seen [in the latest confrontations] are very young people, including children, fighting the police,” says Wael Eskandar, a Cairo-based journalist who follows the revolution closely. “Not all of them are particularly aligned with what we think is the revolution, but such a generation is learning not to accept the status quo and to revolt against injustice.”

A revolution in search of a leadership

Over the past nearly two years, so much change has taken place that there are those, in Egypt and beyond, who wonder why there are still such large-scale protests, especially amongst the young. Not only has Mubarak been removed and the army increasingly sidelined, but Egyptians got to go to the ballot box to select their first ostensibly democratically elected parliament and president.

Part of the reason is that much of the change has been superficial and has not delivered the fundamental freedom, equality and economic opportunity young Egyptians yearn for. “The youth revolts but the leadership is still ancient. The youth want change yet the leaders cannot walk away from their comfort zone,” says Marwa Rakha, an Egyptian writer, broadcaster and blogger.

“Young Egyptians have more than once demonstrated that their aspirations are greater than the elite, that their vision is more farsighted, and that they are more willing to sacrifice for the cause,” echoes Nael Shama. “It looks as if the young live in a different time zone from the one within which the largely conventional political elite operates.”

In the eyes of many young revolutionaries, Egyptians have so far effectively substituted one set of fossilized leaders for another. The former ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) of the semi-autocratic Mubarak years has made way for the authoritarian-inclined Freedom and Justice Party of the Muslim Brotherhood and the wannabe-dictator Mohamed Morsi – with the only key difference being that one leaned more towards secularism, while the other is inclined more towards religion – but Egypt has changed, so its new rulers do not have the same room for manoeuvre as their predecessors.

Moreover, though young Egyptians started the revolutionary juggernaut rolling and arguably suffered the greatest pain for the revolution, they have seen precious few gains to date. Not only have they been largely excluded from the official political landscape by their elders, the country’s new leadership has shown little interest in empowering the very people who brought them to power, beyond paying lip service to their courage.

To add insult to injury, Egypt’s draft constitution – which is a wonderful document if you happen to be a conservative, middle-aged, male Muslim – takes a patriarchal and paternalistic attitude not only towards women but also young people, despite its insistence that Egypt’s is a “democratic regime” based on “equal citizenship”.

Joining the political party

Part of the reason for the continued relative disenfranchisement of young people, as well as secular revolutionaries in general, is their lack of political experience in comparison with the savvy veteran Islamists. This was compounded by the divisions and rivalries within revolutionary ranks, eloquently and tragically expressed in the splintering of the April 6 Youth Movement into two rival groups.

“At the beginning, young people had a clearer vision of what they wanted, which was to topple Mubarak and the old regime, and see some change in the country,” notes Lamia Hassan, a young journalist and filmmaker based in Cairo. “But as soon as this was over and the revolution was first hijacked by the military then later by the Islamic groups, the youth started to lose their way a little bit and were less [certain] about what they had to do to keep it alive.”

The reason for this disarray is partly due to the failure of a clear leader or group of leaders to emerge to steer the revolution. While the leaderless nature of the early uprising was a key factor in its success because it made it almost impossible for the regime to shut the revolt down, this one-time asset has turned into a liability.

“Yes, it’s the revolution of youth and the Egyptian people but they do not have a leader – an agreed upon leader. But the country needs a president and a whole cabinet of revolutionary leaders,” asserts Rakha. “In the 1952 coup, the officers had a president, a cabinet, and an array of consultants ready to replace the toppled king and his entourage. The 1952 revolution was disastrous on many fronts but at least they got that part right,” she adds.

To move out of the current intergenerational impasse, young revolutionaries need to become better organised and politically savvy, not just at toppling regimes but at building a new and better state for all Egyptians. In addition, the new political elite must realise that their future and that of Egypt’s is in the hands of young people, and so they must start sharing power with and creating opportunity for the new generation.

“To be effective, and even to survive, political forces (both old and new) need to understand the youth and incorporate their ideas and visions into their political doctrines and plans of action,” concludes Shama.


Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This essay first appeared in the Palestine-Israel Journal on 13 December 2012 and was set to appear in its special print edition on the younger generation.

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Humanising the Holy Land

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By Khaled Diab

My time in Israel and Palestine, where everything is politics, has taught me that it is the human that  is holy, not the land.

Tuesday 18 December 2012

In any normal context, a toddler’s third birthday party should be a simple, even mundane affair.  Photo:©Katleen Maes

In any normal context, a toddler’s third birthday party should be a simple, even mundane affair. Photo:©Katleen Maes

Everything is politics, the German novelist Thomas Mann once wrote, and my sojourn in Jerusalem has convinced me that this truism is nowhere truer, at least for me as an Egyptian, than in the Holy Land.

In any normal context, a toddler’s third birthday party, which was doubling up as his parents’ farewell do, should be a simple, even mundane affair. But then, that same week, Gaza happened.

This not only raised the question in our mind of whether it was appropriate to be having fun while war was potentially brewing just a few dozen kilometres down the road, the prospect of having Palestinian and Israeli guests – and plenty of international observers – under the same roof suddenly seemed not just a possibly tense experience, but a potentially explosive encounter.

Despite the dangerous escalation in the war of words and the pulling of rank going on outside, the get-together passed without incident and surprisingly cordially, though the situation kept some of those coming from the West Bank or the coast away.

Afterwards, I felt a sense of relief. For me, as an Egyptian, the situation is sensitive at the best of times. In a context where any contact with Israel or Israelis is widely regarded in Arab circles as a form of unacceptable “normalisation” and the presence of Arabs is often viewed with suspicion or even hostility by Israelis, living in Israel-Palestine is a politically charged affair.

Residing here teaches one that everything is political and politics is everywhere: from choosing where to live and shop, to deciding where to go and who to befriend, not to mention what to call things, since vocabulary is not just idle semantics, but can act as a powerful weapon of negation and denial.

Everything is politics, including the decision to move to the Helly Land. For many years now, I have been convinced that the Arab fixation on normalisation and the Israeli obsession with ghettoisation have distracted attention away from the equally important question of humanisation. This lack of contact empowers extremists to continue their demonisation of the other side and use this to further their rejectionist agendas.

Being here makes you realise that even clothes – from the type of kippa a Jew wears to the traditional Palestinian keffieyeh – speak the language of politics and make far more than just a fashion statement. I’ve always been something of an unorthodox dresser, but since moving to Jerusalem I’ve learnt that white and black, and my affection for headgear, are really quite orthodox.  My wife has also had her notions of fashion redefined. She has discovered that one of her preferred strategies for dealing with the Middle Eastern heat and sun – a cotton scarf tied, gypsy-style, around her head and a loose skirt or a dress – whereas elsewhere it can lie somewhere between the hip and the hippy, here it is associated with the Hilltop Youth and their gung-ho Wild West Bank ways.

Living here also reveals you that the political can also gradually become normal, ordinary, mundane, even humdrum – or, at the very least, an occupational hazard, so to speak. For example, we have raised our three-year-old son, Iskander, for the greater part of his life in Jerusalem.

He went, sometimes on a politically controversial tram, to a crèche in the old city, a stone’s throw away from the holiest, and hence highly politicised, sites in monotheism, past heavily armed soldiers. Iskander not only learnt to speak Arabic more like a Palestinian than an Egyptian, he also picked up some Hebrew phrases, calls money, including euros, “shekels” and even sings “Frere Shekel” instead of “Frère Jacques”. Being an egalitarian toddler, he bombarded Palestinians and Israelis indiscriminately with affection and mischief.

Whenever a military fighter jet or Apache gunship flew overhead – which was with saddening regularity during our last days in Jerusalem – my son would point up to the sky excitedly and shout “plane” or “heli’topter”. Although I pretended to share his excitement, I was privately grateful that he did not have to grow up in Gaza, where the sound of aircraft does not represent a distant and intriguing toy, but a near and deadly danger, or in nearby Sderot where the whistling of rockets does not indicate a fun fireworks display but the muffled sound of a randomly falling rocket heard from the dark confines of an air raid shelter.

However, one thing I will never grow accustomed to is the ugly monstrosity of the wall and the checkpoints and what they represents in terms of segregation, confinement and dispossession.

Then there are the psychological walls and emotional chasms. Trying to bridge these or to infiltrate and occupy the emotional, psychological and political no-man’s land in such a deeply entrenched conflict, as anyone who has tried it will attest, leaves you exposed to both friendly and unfriendly fire.

It also raises the thorny ethical dilemma for me as an Arab – even though I do to strive to be an inclusive, progressive humanist –  of exactly which Israelis I should engage with and befriend.

Although I have not shied away from meeting and dialoguing with Israelis of all political stripes, including extremist and radical settlers, deciding who it is kosher to socialise with or befriend is a trickier affair. Though it is unfair to blame and boycott Israelis for Israel’s excesses and transgressions, should one only socialise with and befriend Israelis who oppose Israel’s repressive policies towards the Palestinians or should differences on these issues not represent a barrier to personal relations? Can friendship and companionship be divorced from politics, especially when, say, an Israeli’s support for military action in Gaza or the wall or settlement building indirectly enables the government to kill and harm Palestinian civilians? Similarly, how should one relate to Palestinians who are sympathetic with, say, the targeting of Israeli civilians?

On a more practical daily level, it can be emotionally and morally challenging to witness the harsh realities of life under occupation for Palestinians, and to enjoy greater access to their homeland than they do, and then to go and hang out with Israelis, who suffer no such restrictions.

Despite this disparity in the power dynamics, there is a growing minority of Palestinians and Israelis who no longer wish to live in the trenches and believe that co-operation, co-existence, and co-resistance will eventually help bring down the real and virtual walls keeping the two peoples apart.

One thing my presence here has driven home to me is that, once you strip away the ethno-tribalism of the conflict, you find that not only are both sides an incredibly heterogeneous mix of peoples, but also that likeminded Israelis and Palestinians have more in common with each other than with their compatriots. And that is why, for instance, secular, progressive, pacifist Israelis and Palestinians have more in common with each other than they do with their conservative, rejectionist, religious compatriots.

Despite the hostile political climate, over the nearly two years of my residence, I experienced a generally warm welcome and remarkably little hostility from ordinary people.

The fact that Egypt is the capital of Arab pop culture and cinema casts a certain glamour upon the only flesh-and-blood Egyptian many Palestinians have ever met, even if I can’t act or sing to save my life, and the Egyptian revolution confers a certain street cred, even though I played no part in that courageous popular uprising beyond writing about it.

Despite the Arab boycott movement, most Palestinians I met, especially in remoter areas, were supportive of my presence and thrilled that a fellow Arab had actually made the effort to come and live by their side rather than grandstand from a distance. And I have been rewarded with touching insights into the meaning of steadfastness, adaptability, as well as peaceful resistance through simple insistence on and persistence with daily life against all the odds. One thing that is striking to the outsider is the powerful lust for life and surprising good humour Palestinians sustain despite decades of tragedy and loss.

For many Israelis, the very exoticness and unexpectedness of having an Arab in their midst softens the tough and rather abrasive public exterior to reveal a hospitable and friendly private side which is not immediately apparent to the stranger, and places Israelis culturally in the Middle Eastern fold. All the doors that have opened to me have helped me form a human picture of who Israelis are, in all their dizzying diversity, and, despite Israel’s contemporary role as oppressor and occupier, how humane so many Israelis actually are.

It is these missing nuances and my conviction that the only peace process that will work is a grassroots people’s peace that has prompted me to write a book not about the politics or the history of this conflict, but about the ordinary folk who find themselves in these extraordinary circumstances.

Seeing the human face of both sides makes me painfully aware of perhaps the greatest tragedy in this conflict: the politicisation of the people. Palestinians and Israelis, albeit to varying degrees, have for generations been viewed and treated as collective causes whose rights to peace and security as individuals are subservient to the claims of the collective to the land.

But it is my belief that if anything should be treated as holy in this unholiest of messes it is the people and not the land.

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This is the extended version of an article which first appeared in Haaretz on 12 December 2012.

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The Mubarak regime’s legalised robbery

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By Osama Diab

Since the ‘Mubarak mafia’ were not outlaws but were the law, proving that Egypt’s lost billions were ill-gotten is an elusively difficult challenge.

Monday 17 September 2012

“Tell us Mubarak, how could a pilot make 70 billion?” protesters chanted during the 18-day revolution which ousted former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in February of last year. The chant was a reaction to reports that Mubarak’s family fortune could be as high as $70 billion.

I was part of a BBC investigation team that was formed to reveal unexposed facts about “Egypt’s Stolen Billions”. The team produced a documentary on unfrozen assets in the UK related to the Mubarak regime which was aired recently on BBC Arabic.

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Decades of authoritarian corruption helped Mubarak and his family and friends accumulate tens of billions of pounds, leaving millions of Egyptians living in dire poverty. It is impossible to measure accurately the economic cost of Mubarak’s rule, but figures from the World Bank suggest that $134.4 billion (817 billion Egyptian pounds) worth  of public assets went missing over the past 30 years.

So far Switzerland has frozen $800 million and the the UK about $120 million in assets related to the Mubarak regime, but Egypt hasn’t yet seen a penny of it returned. To do so, Egypt must prove that the money was “ill-gotten” first.

“It is crucial that the recovery and return of stolen assets is lawful,” Alistair Burt, UK Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, said in an official statement published on the website of the British embassy in Cairo last week. “It is simply not possible for the UK to deprive a person of their assets and return them to an overseas country in the absence of a criminal conviction and confiscation order.”

However, this statement, even though it sounds reasonable, ignores the legal challenges involved in proving the wrongdoings of the Mubarak regime.

To identify the truth amid the many rumours surrounding this sensational issue, it was necessary for the team to find solid and documented evidence of the systematic impoverishment of Egypt at the hands of its former rulers, who received the official status of being a network of organised crime from the Swiss government in May, as the BBC team has discovered.

During my quest in Cairo, I sipped tea and ate liver sandwiches on street cafes with dissident government officials. We spoke to economists, lawyers, activists, members of parliament and bankers over more than six months. Their reactions to our investigation ranged from daily calls to offer assistance to suspicion I was a spy working for the Mubaraks.

They were all trying relentlessly to expose facts about the Mubarak regime’s corruption. The problem is that they were trying to prove it according to existing laws which were put in place by the Mubarak institutions.

The parliament – which is responsible for drafting and passing legislation – was completely dominated by Mubarak’s National Democratic Party through vote-buying, rigging and political intimidation.The cabinet was also dominated by businessmen belonging to the ruling party. Since 2004, the Council of Ministers was unofficially known as the “businessmen’s cabinet”.

Reda Eissa, an independent economic researcher, shows through his research how certain companies benefited from tax laws and breaks introduced by these institutions for their own benefit. Companies owned by figures close to the regime ended up paying almost no to very little taxes. The Six of October Development and Investment Company (SODIC), a real-estate giant by Mubarak’s in-law Magdy Rasekh, was paying about 0.5% in tax, according to Eissa’s study.

I found out from my sources that in Mubarak’s Egypt, the laws allowed some banks, such as the Arab International Bank (AIB), to escape the monitoring of the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) or any other local authority. This meant that some Egyptian banks could transfer any sums of ill-gotten gains without the knowledge of the CBE. The transactions simply did not appear on any records accessible to the authorities as stated by the law.

The founding charter of the AIB, which was established as a joint project in 1974 between the governments of Egypt, Libya, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, states that the bank falls outside the authority of local governments and is therefore exempt from taxation, exchange controls and the CBE’s auditing regulations.

The bank was the subject of many allegations for being a channel for suspicious money transfers before, during and after the revolution. More than a year after the revolution, the bank finally responded by stating on its website that it falls under the jurisdiction and supervision of the Central Bank.

The team was also able to meet many dissident bureaucrats who have gathered hundreds of documents and are still struggling with them in the Egyptian courts. These dissident bureaucrats provided the BBC with proof of another “legal” practice which allowed for the exploitation of the country’s wealth. The government, namely the ministries of tourism and housing, had the legal authority to allocate land by  direct order at prices they decided to whomever they chose without recourse to any proper tendering process.

The bureaucrats gave us evidence that in many cases the land was gravely undervalued and given to either Mubarak’s in-laws or close friends. The documents, of which some are official government reports, show that due to this undervaluation Egypt has lost tens, if not hundreds, of billions of pounds in revenues – even though the practice was perfectly “legal”.

“We talk about $200 billion that were stolen illegally, but if you discuss the lawful mechanism that was unethical, we are talking about a trillion dollars,” says Mohamed Mahsoub, the current Minister of Legal Affairs in the recently-appointed cabinet.

When a mafia-like group ‘owns’ a state with its legislative, judicial and executive powers, corruption no longer becomes illegal. This ‘organised crime’ network, fostered by the family of Egypt’s ousted dictator, was not operating outside the law, because they were the law – in fact, they were everything.

Laws were simply drafted by them for their benefit. Law enforcement institutions were also their own private property. Accordingly, any effort to prove the Mubarak regime money was ill-gotten should not focus on whether they brok laws of their own making. What is acquired on illegitimate grounds should, by extension, also be illegal. The focus instead should be on the much easier task of proving the regime was an unelected dictatorship which benefited financially from being in power, even if on paper, it was all “legal”.

Follow Osama Diab on Twitter

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