Sunday, May 29, 2011

Friday's not-quite-million-man demo

For those of you following Egyptian affairs, much hype surrounded this Friday's protests in Tahrir Square.  It was anticipated as yet another "million man demo" or "day of anger/rage," two terms that have become trite.  Some activists went so far as to dub the event as a second revolution.  Admittedly, I fell for it and posted this article on Facebook.

But what I saw in Tahrir Square on Friday was familiar- and not reminiscent of the uprising in January and February.  Like other Fridays over the past few months, the atmosphere was more of a rally than a protest.  Perhaps this is because Egyptians who attended were not unified in their demands (not to mention that key political forces like the Muslim Brotherhood scornfully boycotted the protests).  All agreed that Egypt's revolution has not yet brought about revolutionary change.  Beyond that, everyone appeared to have their own agenda........

While my in sufficient Arabic comprehension skills usually prevent me from understanding the exact politics of Tahrir Square, this article on Al Ahram Online by Salma Shukrullah (unintentionally) highlights the failure of these fragmented political rallies to coalesce.

"Four stages were erected around the square, each with a different focus. The stage constructed by the Youth Coalition, near Talaat Harb Street, became the square's focal point after Friday prayer when the Imam sermonised from the stage, stressing that 'the demonstration is not planned to challenge a certain body but to put forward demands.'  The socialist Popular Alliance Party stage closer to Abdel-Moneim Riad Square, however, was more expressive of its anti-military council sentiment. It also focused mainly on social demands including the application of a minimum and maximum wage.  The stage closer to Kasr El-Nil Bridge, raised by the liberal Democratic Front Party, focused on demands to establish a presidential council and postpone elections."

Furthermore, the solidarity and respect Egyptians showed towards one another in Tahrir Square during the revolution was absent.  I was predictably harassed as I waded my way through crowds (this never happened during the revolution).  At one point, I panicked as a crowd suddenly formed and rushed toward me.  It was a mob chasing a bloodied, zombie-esque man wielding a stick.  When I asked with alarm what was going on, an Egyptian explained to me that the entire scene was a dispute between vendors over popcorn and Egyptian flag- selling territory.

Perhaps Egyptians are simply unable to tap into the true Tahrir spirit during this transitional period because no absolute demand (see: the fall of the regime) unites them.  It is inspiring to see citizens keeping the public sphere alive.  But the political arena may prove to be a better receptacle for agendas that compete rather than coalesce.  


  1. Lenin once said: "Any cook should be able to rule the country."
    I very much disagree.

    I am glad you write about the "political arena" in this article. Much has been said of these young social activists using new social media tools and, more importantly, participation in mass demonstrations, to stoke engagement in politics. But what next?

    Those methods are good at bringing people together, but the task now, as this article makes clear, is the need to develop and create sensible policy positions. At the present moment, there seems to be a chorus of conflicting, disparate voices... even within the single political positions, be it the conservatives, the liberals, and the leftists.

    Take the recent riots outside of the Israeli Embassy in Giza. After one death, hundreds of arrests, and many more injured, what exactly was achieved? Demands (which were ambitious albeit unrealistic) were not met and nothing was brought "back on the table."

    Though demonstrations and campaigning are obviously aspects of politics, so is negotiation and policy-making. The key now is to ensure that political representatives of the political parties are voicing opinions targeted towards the common good to create workable policy positions. Now is not necessarily the time to get back onto the streets, but it is the time to enter the political arena.

    So... let cooks cook, and let social activitists campaign, and the latter will be of most use during election time when mass participation in the voting process will be essential.
    Abdus Shuman.

  2. I'm sorry, but this is a day late and a dollar short. Much of what you write here is regurgitated from other commentary on the protests more immediately after the protests, so lost points for lack of originality. What's even more shameful, however, is that in your regurgitation, you failed to check your facts. While the MB higher ups may have declared that they would not participate on 27 May, that did not stop many MB youth from going to Tahrir Square and participating. This is of vast importance. It shows a weakness in the fabric that is the MB. So more lost points for spreading false information. The protests allowed for the promotion of different ideas, and this isn't necessarily a bad thing, so it's undeserving of the condemnation. It allows dialogue to form. It allows dissenting voices to be heard. In essence it's the truest form of democracy. It's not the forum that needs to be questioned, it's how the voices are channeled afterward that needs to be analyzed.

  3. To anonymous number 2.

    Having the privilege of hindsight in my response to your lambasting of Sarah's insightful article, i must criticize you for your lack of understanding in her excellent original content that provides contextually enlightening perspectives to those of us not on Egyptian soil.

    Her brief was written in a timely fashion and has vindicated itself in accurately predicting the bottle neck that political re-posturing has occurred. Your tone makes you sound drunk, and your perception makes that charge clear.

    What is historically accurate of Egypt is that strong men have always led the political process, and it was through their so called strength that they were able to maintain power and suppress dissent. Thus, for egypt to become successful in her quest for kinderd consolidation, your hint that the MB is crumbling, can only be explained by one thing. the growing power of understanding via technology. Discussions, conversations and understandings are being made where they had never been made before. With that power, comes its flipside. Disputes, tensions, and mis-understandings become much more polarized in a much quicker fashion.