Saturday 1 January 2011

PART 2: Why Many Egyptians Don't Fully Support The Revolutionaries...


3- The focus on "youth" in media, especially some less-than-capable speakers, has given some people a juvenile immature image of revolutionaries and activists:   The image of youth, many in their early to mid twenties on TV, debating politics and talking about the future of the nation on all news shows, sometimes with the complete absence of proper journalists, academic figures, politicians, had both a negative and a positive outcome. Positively, it showed a dynamic and intelligent youth who was both much more knowledgeable and capable than otherwise felt by the people. Negatively, the image of young and sometimes skinny teen or teen-like or just young person in Jeans talking about the future of the nation was not very confidence-inspiring for the standard Egyptian who, as I said, prefer older and easily authority-inspiring figures, preferably in a suit (I'm serious about that last phrase!). I easily heard many people say: "Are we gonna be led by a bunch of kids now!? Everytime these kids disklike something are they gonna go to Tahrir!?" The choice of poor unprepared speakers from youth coalitions sometimes had helped to foster that image that was already capable of growing on its own inside the minds of a society like ours, where youth has always been looked down on as incapable, brash, unwise.

4- Lists of demands were often ridiculously written, demanded abstract goals, had too many demands, and left people unable to focus on prorities and confused: Many of the Lists of Demands that were circulated after the revolution were absolutely ridiculous, both in terms of the demands themselves, and/or the way they were written, and they varied immensely from one to the other (some were much better written, such as those by the 6th of April movement, whether or not you agree with the demands themselves). Some mentioned abstract goals like "We will not leave Tahrir until we achieve social justice", some goals were just headlines without mechanisms, some were critical goals that did not have a road map and required clear consensus both on the goal itself and the methods to reach them (e.g. The debate over a Civil Presidential Council, over which I wrote another article in Arabic), and some were just either wrong goals or were not grounded in reality, at least for many. Worse, there were just too many demands, many of which were big in scope. While most of them were indeed rational demands, not properly designating 1-3 main demands per phase, demands that people can focus on, debate, that the media can ingest and openly discuss and create pressure over the political forces of the country to achieve them in one form or other, led to people asking the same question ever single time: "why are those kids in Tahrir protesting this Friday!? What do they want again!?" It also made people confused about what was being wanted and by whom, and this confusion was exacerbated and increased by the normal news cycle of course. People need to be given specific items of focus, popular ones with wide consensus, and create pressure on a case-by-case basis, in a peaceful manner, using media and other methods. Other demands should also remain highlighted, because when there is high resistance to main demands, attempts at appeasing the public happen by granting lesser requests on the list, and because special opportunities do appear at times for certain other forgotten demands. (Note: that focus has been developing recently indeed).


One of the Shorter lists of demands. The larger the list, the great the lack of public attention focus, the less the political pressure, the larger the lack of consensus. 

5- Protesting against the Security Institutions of the State causes a bitter reaction for many Egyptians, who are exhausted and need a sense of security: The Physical Challenge of Authority is also a sticky issue, for a population that cares deeply about its internal and external security. The main turning point in the revolution was when it became clear on the Battle of the Camel Day that the regime was violent and willing to kill, in every sense of the word, and that either the Mubaraks were culprits or not in control. The image of peaceful protesters suddenly being attacked by camels and horses and weapons clearly established who was the wolf and who was the resilient lamb. Following the courage and confidence gained by the revolution, people have become less afraid to respond violently to the police, in some cases without any truth to the story that people said to instigate the violence against the officers involved, or at least without investigating the claims. For example, in Maadi, a more upscale Cairo suburb, a police officer was nearly annihilated when a microbus driver said he was trying to kill him with a gun. The official story was "the two cars wanted the same road, the police officer just stepped out and shot the driver." It just did not make any sense, and the subsequent story was shown to be more complex than that. But the Police, a necessary evil as I mentioned before, has become under frequent physical attack, sometimes without actually doing anything, and many of the simpler people on the street were afraid that this "jump-to-violence whenever a rumour is heard against the Police" could further widen the huge gap between the Police and the Egyptians.

Also, the day when protesters went to the building of the Ministry of Interior and spray painted pictures of Khaled Said on the walls and pretty much did what they wanted to do, that immensely bothered many of the people on the streets seeking a sense of security in a police force that had yet to deploy itself fully into the streets, and many who either still wanted to feel that the Police was a respectable force that incited fear into the hearts of criminals (and were claiming increased violence on the streets as a result of this lack of police presence or fear of police), and others who felt that activists should never be the ones who provoke the Police first. Many didn't like the humiliation of the Police as a whole, being a national institution, while they remained in favour of course of punishing those who were guilty of corruption and violence. The story became to many on the streets: young protesters attacked and humiliated the building of the Ministry of Interior, and it sent fear into the minds of many Egyptians who wanted to see the police force back in action, and many felt that it risked unneeded violence and chaos. I am not commenting on how I evaluate what is right and what is wrong regarding such protests, but I am simply relaying the stories and comments I have seen on the streets and online. Add to that that some on the Islamist side seem to have been trying to reconcile their strained relationship with the Security apparatuses of the State, and some seem to have tried to use their influence to decrease any tensions against these institutions. Of course however, attitudes have changed after June 28, significantly.

One of the worst days in the history of humanity

6- In Continuation many do not appreciate it when seemingly some protest against the entireness of certain institutions, such as the Army or Police forces or the Judiciary, rather than clearly demonstrating that protests are against specific policies and/or personnel: the near continuous bundling of all Police and Army Officers and judiciary during at times and at certain protests by some and by specific protest groups, each as one good or bad lot, has not been a very popular move. There has to be sufficient clarification by the activists to the people that they do realise (as they do) the existence of good and bad people in every organisation, and they need to display positivity towards whoever the good elements are, to show that we have problems with "people within these institutions and some of its elements and policies", but not the institution as whole and every single member in them. If anything, that would strengthen the good forces within these institutions, and help reform the reformable ones, and also alleviate public concerns of supposed youthful brashness and lack of wisdom.

From the Maadi Police Officer Incident.

7- Revolutionaries need to show greater empathy with the concerns of the people they disagree with, and not be entirely dismissive of their ideas, even out of respect: While it is true that the previous regime, and its remnants to this day, spread many false rumours and there are indeed many conspiracy theories and silly ideas out there being repeated whenever there is a problem of a significant scale, the activists made several mistakes nevertheless. First, they became dismissive of anything sounding remotely conspiracy-like even though there is a huge room to believe that we are the targets of multiple conspiracies. For example, autocratic Arab regimes have a benefit in creating an image of Egypt as chaotic to make the appeal of a revolution in their own country less powerful, members of the previous regime have a benefit in weakening this new Egypt and making people miss the days of Mubarak and the "stability and security he brought", at least slowing day any trials against them or helping them stay in their positions or divert attention from them, and many more sources of possible conspiracies. During the June 28 events, when people were informed that the Police was brutalising the Families of the Martyrs by the Balon Theatre, it just didn't sound fully right, even to many of the famous names involved regularly in the protests. It just seemed as if something indeed was wrong, a third party was possibly involved. But the emotional charging of the acitivists and the negative history of the police made a significant percentage dismiss any other possibility and immediately believe the story as told. Of course, events in Tahrir after ruined the image of the police even further, and made the idea of "how did the violence start?" just seem irrelevant.

Another point, while many of the instances of Sectarian violence we had were most likely indeed the results of internal problems much as as the majority of nations in the world have extremist elements in them, the possibility of external hands causing such unrest is not entirely impossible. Dismissing it immediately is as naive as saying "we dont have extremists." People with actual concerns about foreign intervention are significantly worried, and many have proper concerns, and dismissing their concerns immediately and often with sarcasm is not a way to win people.

Another very important point is the debate about the economy and how bad the situation was. The truth is that while there was some magnification of the degree of free fall in which the economy was or is, the economy was, and is, indeed suffering from both current negative indicators as well as investor lack of confidence in the future and a relative inability to invest longterm investments, in addition to the lack of income from Tourism (a significant percentage of GDP that employs more than 10%, directly and indirectly, of the labour force) and other indicators that there were indeed economic problems. Many of them were caused by the previous regime, some by international problems (worldwide aggregate demand-pull or supply-pull inflation), but some were and are indeed due to instability in the country, and downplaying or ignoring them is counterproductive. But the point is that protests had little to do with the instability and the economic downturn, for the most part, but instead of focusing on promoting that message and making people understand it, and how the protesters are "asking for good things for me and you, and not the reason for what is happening", many moved to dismiss altogether the claim that the economy was suffering, often employing sarcasm. As a result, they alienated many people who felt that these were "impulsive kids who don't feel what we're going through." Again, activists need to demonstrate that they do care about the economy, they do recognise and feel the people's concerns, and that what they do has little to do with any economic downtown in the country. The continuous catchphrases of "don't speak to us of the Production Cycle or The Economic Conditions" or that "If you think something is wrong with the economy then you're an (expletive)!" both need to be dropped.

The mythical sign that no one has been able to exactly locate

8- First complaint on the streets is that the Revolutionary Youth has grown very full of itself and feels like it alone understands the world: Some activists are supposedly beginning to show what some are describing as Revolutionary Egoism. Basically, and in relation to points made and points coming, some of the young activists speak negatively of, and to, the older generations, and describe them as complacent, lacking in fire and spirit or courage, too compromising, without any proper understanding of what's happening now, too influenced by fear, and so on. The older generation has pretty much started to feel that the Revolutionary Youth is just "full of itself", and is disrespectful of the older members of society, and think they know it all. As a result, many have turned against the youth now instead of embracing them as heroes. Some are even happy when the youth is proven wrong, and feel redemption, even schadenfreude.

In addition, the supposed lack of traditional reverence by the youth towards older figures was a bit strange and disheartening for some. Egypt is a society that is somewhat pyramidical (not in a classist sense, but a reverential one), one that likes to use titles and venerate the older members and its more accomplished ones. Some have commented that they get a bit disappointed when they see young protesters using foul language against people like Ahmed Shafiq or the Essam Sharaf, and some expressed similar distaste for not using at least the official titles when talking about them, such as Dr, Mr, and so forth. I can easily argue that in the heat of disappointment with government policy, titles and veneration can become quite irrelevant and perhaps undeserved by some, but this article is more interested in presenting these points rather than arguing for or against them.

Everyone was on the streets


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