Wednesday 6 July 2011

Why Many Egyptians Don't Support The Revolutionaries...

NOTE: Because this article is big, and I prefer brevity, I marked certain paragraphs with an asterisk (*), meaning that they are more clarification-oriented than essential or new ideas, and that you may skip them if you wish. If you can read the entire article, that would be much better of course, to follow a proper line of thought.

SUMMARY: This piece tries to analyse a purportedly growing gap and hostility between many on the Egyptian Streets and some of the Revolutionary Youths. It argues, among other things, that some of the Youth is failing to understand the Psyche and Mentality of a significant percentage of the Egyptian People, failing to read the implications of the last few months on different strata of society, have not succeeded in presenting and marketing many of their cases and demands, have been the targets of misinformation and disinformation campaigns, while some have developed a case of Revolutionary Egoism that has turned many people away from, and even against, them. It thus argues that it is time to approach the revolutionary and activist work in a totally different manner.


On June 29th, the day after the Tahrir Clashes between protesters and Police forces, I found many of the citizens on the streets saying phrases like "I don't care if these kids die. They are a bunch of brash idiots." Then, the following day as the verdict of the Khaled Said trial was coming out, some were saying on the streets "Damn that Khaled Said who ruined our lives!" I was dumbfounded. Why are people criticising those who were exposed to needless violence, cursing a young man who was tortured to death for no reason, and seemed hateful or angry at much of the same youth who risked their lives for the sake of the revolution and all Egyptians?

June 28, 2011

Make no mistake,  but many see the Egyptian Revolution as not over, with a battle still raging on many fronts. Many signs of the continued influence of elements from the old regime still exist. Some Egyptians are complaining of what appears to slow responses with regards to the trials of former regime figureheads, some complain of mismanagement by the new government, including supposed lack of transparency on the creation and execution of government policy, with security issues are still a wide concern, among many other points of contentious debate.

But while virtually all of the public and revolutionary demands are indeed on the side of justice, and there are reasons for frustration, the activists and the revolutionary youth seem to be losing popularity more and more, and it is very baffling indeed. How can one go protest demanding positive things for her or his people, in some cases risking one's own security and life, and get cursed the following day? Well, it's complicated.

Tahrir in more unified times

First, before I go into the Egyptian case, I should point out that it is not entirely without precedent. The most famous of such modern activist movements, the Yugoslav/Serbian Student Movement of OTPOR, which the April 6th movement clearly drew inspiration from, as well as many of the true engineers of the January 25th Youth movement, was immensely popular after toppling Milosevic, only to lose much of that popularity after. There are certain parallels, but of a different scale. Milosevic was still somewhat popular with the conservative Orthodox Serbs who aimed at a Greater Serbia containing regions from Bosnia and other neighboring states, as well as maintaining Kosovo. Following his genocidal violence and authoritarian rule during his period, many began desiring change, especially the youth. After what began as a decentralised campaign of revolutionary work, OTPOR developed into a nation wide movement, and finally overthrew Milosevic and were greeted as heroes as a result, by an even much wider audience of supporters than they had at first. Following the revolution however, they struggled to remain relevant. While internationally they inspired many similar movements around the world such as PORA (Ukraine), KelKel (Kyrgyzstan), MJAFT! (Albania) and others, their own influence home dwindled. They tried to become a corruption watchdog, and many of their members decided to enter professional politics, eventually even forming a party out of the movement itself, only to fail miserably in its first participation in a national election. OTPOR declined because instead of having a single clearly recognisable and agreeable role, they turned into a political group and party with agendas, involved in debates over the economy and security and all matters of state, and became seen as a set of individuals involved in politics like all others. They were no longer Revolutionaries, but People and Politicians with Agendas. They lost their uniqueness, their quasi-sacredness.

(*) Egypt is a different story, but has certain lessons to learn as well previous experiences such as OTPOR's. The youth-led revolution began mostly as a call for greater justice, transparency about the political future of the country and any possible succession plans by the Mubaraks, a cry out against poverty and torture, and more. It was partially through some very clearly intent activists from the start as well as a backlash against the violence campaign conducted by the security forces against protesters that the demand for the outright fall of the regime was unifying call for the majority of protesters. It became both the main goal as well as the main negotiation chip in the case of being unable to go the full way with the downfall of the regime. Having such a singular demand allowed people to debate over it, measure the responses by each side, define the entire camps and the national discussion over it, and following the Battle of the Camel, even those who supported the regime out of love, desire for stability, or just a fear of the unknown, just had no more excuses. Either Mubarak ordered this violence, or either he wasn't in charge of the country. Either way, it was clear he had to go.

The People of Serbia, OTPOR, and their iconic flag

But the entire experience of the revolution revealed many things about the psyche and mentality of the standard Egyptian. The largest majority of Egyptians are politically conservative, much like the Russians. They value a strong leadership that can lead with an iron fist when needed (and they don't mind violence against "thugs" and "misguided youth"), they respect Age, both with its implications of wisdom and also of a frailty that requires kindness, they like having symbols of security and stability and icons to look up to, they like to feel that the country is on a clear course and track, many accepted a role of the outside commentator as a citizen rather than active participant in government and activism, many accepted the solace of an afterlife rather than try to materially fix the problems of the existing world, perhaps out of fear of the violence of regime as well, and many preferred prefer security and even slow growth at the expense of a modicum of corruption and autocracy rather than attempt to topple the government and risk extreme instability. Many liked the now-foul concept of Stability, or at least the illusion of it even. In fact, I would say many Egyptians didn't necessarily "Love" Mubarak, but didn't hate him either. They saw him as a patriarch that should be respected as a "Father". He was not a visionary leader, but he "brought peace and stability", and he "didn't know of how bad things were".

Add to that, Egypt is not the politically varied landscape that is Lebanon, for example. The grand majority of Egyptians are Centre to Centre-left (Mixed Economy With Strong State), while a minute minority of white collars are Centre-right to Right (Dominant free markets). People were not involved in true debates solution-seeking over the future of health care and education and social security, beyond initial commentary on what they hear for a day or two, at least until the last few years. The only difference that is enough to cause some real debate at the moment as clear as how the new political parties are being categorised, is the discussion of the relationship between religion and democracy and how each approches the issue, as well as the popularity of the political figures in each party and how attractive they are as individuals (Many Parties are being categorised as either Liberal Or Religious, and to a lesser extent Socialist). The NDP played it smart, tried to position itself as a Centrist, to keep itself relevant even nominally to all sides of the Egyptian people, decreasing any ideological appear by other parties, while pretty much doing whatever it really wanted to do, an odd combination of autocracy, badly designed social policies, failing public sector, and some quasi-neoliberal policies.

On a security level, people respect the army immensely, and had a love-hate relationship with the Police, seeing it as a necessary evil, with "necessary" being the more potent word, and they significantly accepted their sometimes brutal ways as an effort to rein in terrorists and extremists. A truth is that a significant number of Egyptians are either uneducated, undereducated, or truly depend on the national media and "common first story heard from a friend" for news and opinion, and they grew used to the National Media's constant illusionary newsfeed that portrayed images of stability and growth. And the number one concern of Egyptians: wheat. They want food on the table. Many people could find the last few lines as classist or downward-looking, but there are statistics and facts to back these claims. I should note of course that I am somewhat generalising of course. Within the Egyptians are true revolutionaries who fought against the government in much more dangerous times, in the 60s and 70s and 80s and 90s. I am speaking however, in my view, about a significant percentage of Egypt.

While the revolution created a euphoric change in atmosphere and mentality indeed (example, recent polls show most Egyptians still considering who to vote for, which is very exciting, and shows an interest in democracy), it takes more than 18 days to change the mentality of 60 year old person, and the same applies to a 60 year old Republic, and it started to become apparent after the Revolution. First, people began to revert their older and more entrenched personality traits, partially due to them being ingrained into their brains and hardwired, and partially because people were immensely exhausted following the revolution and the lack of security on the streets, which is still felt (both in reality and psychologically) by the people to this day.

Naturally, as the process of justice takes what appears more time than some would like, sometimes with reason and sometimes apparently without, the revolutionaries and the activists took to the streets again, with varying amounts, mostly for good causes, with vigour, and with a true willingness for self-sacrifice for the country. Quite ironically, from then on, the relationship between the revolutionary and the Egyptian began a free fall. Here is why, in my opinion.

1- Protesters and Many Opposition Figures are being subjected to massive disinformation and slandering campaigns that have left them looking bad in the public eye: Massive disinformation, misinformation, underinformation, and slander campaigns by many sides, before, during, and after the revolution. A recent poll by Charney  shows Dr. El Baradei with a rating of under 5% in terms of chances of becoming President. While Amr Moussa is indeed a powerful figure on the streets and does command a staggering lead, El Baradei was the subject of a wide slander campaign from which he has not recovered. Many on the streets still claim that El Baradei is a "Masonic Atheist" who supported the war on Iraq, even after hearing news sources prove the opposite. Another campaign was the one against Wael Ghonim, clearly by the remnants of the old regime, also depicting him as a freemason or CIA agent. Even now, some among the Islamist movements are quite disappointingly using many of the same techniques used by the fallen NDP to defame some of the protests and the protesters, linking them to anti-religious agendas and other similarly conspiratorial charges. It should be noted that even the Liberals and Socialists have been very itchy with the Islamists, in many cases twisting and cutting words out of context as well, to solidify the cliché image of these movements.

Good question though. Why does he and his children have all possible colours and sizes of this T-shirt. Wael, other T-shirts exist too, you know! Interestingly, I was wearing the same T-Shirt on Jan25! Otherwise, he set an exemplary and excellent model for people to follow in his conduct during the revolution. 

2- Not everyone is united over how far the revolution should have went or should go further, and Mubarak remains popular for some Egyptians, especially those who associate him with Security and Stability: The country was significantly divided during the revolution into Three Camps, those who wanted the immediate downfall of Mubarak, those who didn't want it, and those in between. Most people who sided with Mubarak or who preferred a slower transition were involved in powerful debates and arguments with those on the other side, with rudeness and verbal abuse equally initiated by each side. So even as some have become converts to the Jan25 cause, some remained disconnected on a personal level with many of the original participants on Jan25. They seem to have learned to like the revolution, but not the revolutionaries. Also, many of that same camp also hadn't entirely come on board of the pro revolution mindset, and rather accepted the fall of Mubarak as a fact and decided to just accept what is supposed to be a revolution-dominated atmosphere. As time progressed, and with many negative experiences in post-revolutionary Egypt, including what appears to be increased sectarian violence and some debatably increased security concerns, they are becoming re-emboldened, and revocalised, and some are expressing clearly ill sentiments.


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