Tuesday, July 26, 2011

This doesn't feel like January 25th...

Egypt is panting, furrowing her brow, and throwing her hands up perplexedly.

Caricature by Waled Taher
Since July 8th, when tens of thousands citizens poured into Egypt's squares to protect their revolution, there has been an acute political tension mingling with the polluted Cairene air.  The performance that is Egyptian politics continues with thrill and bated breath.  Front and center stage, you have the myriad of liberal groups staging sit-ins nationwide, regularly issuing demands, sometimes clashing with security forces.  Itching to remain in the spotlight are the Muslim Brotherhood, flip-flopping daily on who they support, trying to appease the revolutionary masses but stay on the military's good side.  Behind the curtains, you have the "transitional government", composed of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the Ministry of the Interior, the Cabinet, and Prime Minister Essam Sharif.  Every day, one thespian performs a scene, another cuts in on his lines, and another pulls the curtain down on it all.

Last weekend, it finally came to the crescendo the audience was waiting for.  I can't be sure of the order of events, but it had something to do with SCAF accusing a popular movement, April 6th, of inflaming public feelings against SCAF, then the army forcibly dispersing protesters in Alexandria, then protesters in Tahrir reacting to that by starting a march toward SCAF headquarters, which was stopped by an army cordon.  In the late afternoon of Saturday, July 23rd, a peaceful protest set out from Tahrir Square back to SCAF headquarters, chanting against the army's untrustworthy and underhanded rule: they met the same blockade of army tanks and guns.  What unraveled in the following hours was a miniature war-zone: thugs attacking the protesters with swords (were they paid by SCAF to do so?), the hated police showing up to fire tear gas, and ultimately, around 250 injured protesters surrounded by enemies, the army mocking them from behind their barbed wire.  Read one protester's account here.

March to MOD by Gigi Ibrahim
March to MOD, a photo by Gigi Ibrahim on Flickr
The bruised and battered returned to Tahrir, and the sit-in goes on, as does the political drama.  The liberals seem exhausted, still disorganized politically, and maybe less unified after the latest April 6th scandals.  The Muslim Brotherhood has called for a million-man protest this Friday, but that's liberal territory, right?  The masses just need to get to work and feed their kids.  Ramadan starts next week, and I wonder if this means the protests will abate some, or regain their vigor (in the evening, after breaking fast).  Trials for Mubarak & Adly (the former Interior Minister) start August 3rd, and could be cause for aggravation, but Ramadan is also a time of reflection and forgiveness.  Whatever the case, I sense very little is moving forward, and I think many in this political sphere agree.

Of two things, I am sure.  First, SCAF is criminal, and they will get away with it.  Military trials for bloggers and activists number in the thousands since the revolution, more than in Mubarak's era.  Trials for the real villains of the fallen regime are postponed without reason.  Virginity tests were conducted on women protesters.  No, the army has not yet fired directly on protesters, but they do not stop the Central Security Forces (CSF) or hired thugs from doing so.  It is clear they have an interest in maintaining the former system, as it guarantees their significant economic holdings and military toys from abroad (mainly the U.S.)  SCAF is continuing Mubarak's nefarious legacy, but the Egyptian public adores the army for what they perceive as its excellence in previous wars (they think they won '73), as well as because it is a draft army made up of the people.

On a more optimistic note, the second thing I am sure of is that this is only the beginning.  Political parties do not spring from the ashes, rather, they need tending that was forbidden in Egypt's previous system.  The masses do not jump up from their couches, rather, they need to first be given some bread, then coaxed into civic society.  As a friend recently reminded me, the path to democracy is full of blunders, and for all we know, Egyptians and Arabs may be on the verge of creating a form of governance we've never seen before.  Yes, patience is a virtue, so I will walk as the Egyptians do, or do their notorious hand motion for, "wait a minute". 

I'm off to Turkey tomorrow, to explore for almost a month a country that has reached a fascinating blend of Islam, military, and democracy.  Many praise it as a model for the Arab world.  I will be curious to see what Turks think of the recent uprising in their neighborhood, and I am salivating to travel a new land with some friends, an empty stomach, and an open mind.  It will be hard to be away from the Egyptian revolution, which has become dear to my heart.  Part of me hopes they can save the juicy stuff for when I return, so that I can continue to be witness to the earthquake that is rocking the Middle East.

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