Saturday 1 January 2011

PART 3: Why Many Egyptians Don't Fully Support The Revolutionaries...


8 - Which brings me to another important point. Many activists have been exposed to superhuman pressures, including violence and detentions by the Mubarak regime and after it, as well as the continuous verbal attacks by people who didn't share their cause before, during, and after the revolution. As a result, they became exhausted, physically and mentally, frustrated, and exasperated. They have identified patterns in people who criticise them and they have become allergic to certain keywords, people and attacks. Some (not all) of them have become extremely rude and violent with anyone with a contrarian view (on facebook, twitter, gatherings). While some are intentionally trying to just bother the activists to piss them off or just out there looking for a fight, some are actually well meaning individuals with either wrong or insufficient information. I think in an effort to win back support for the wider causes, there needs to be a general agreement on being stoic, calm, respectful and patient with the others. Either they would win them over, win their respect or at least force those trying to just bother them to realise that efforts at setting off activists are useless. Most importantly, some activists just need to accept that the others are sometimes right in a thing or two. Beside the intentional provocateurs, there needs to be true and modest and kind interaction with well meaning individuals who are seeking the truth is less-than-perfect ways. Also, statements that are meant to be encouraging, such as "The Gutsy Are Gusty, The Corwardly Are Cowardly, And The Gusty Are Going To The Square" and other chants of the type and slogans are starting to cause more backlash than good, a turn off, if you will. Egyptians are exhausted economically and physically, and many don't like to be emotionally bullied into action. Chants that encourage everyone rather than divide people into patriots and non-patriots/lazy bums/culprits should be the ones being used. Activists need to go back to re-explaining why people, from their point of view, need to participate more, and how, as if they never explained before. Less emotional blackmail or pressure, as they are starting to bring the opposite results.

The army is extremely popular, supported and beloved by the overwhelming majority of Egyptians

9- Some also wrongly assume the popularity of certain causes, and automatically assume the people are on board with them entirely: For example, The Army and SCAF, are VERY popular with the common Egyptian as per recent polls, and revolutionaries need to understand that most people are not on their side when some of them badmouth these institutions, no matter how logically they might seemingly argue their frustrations. Going head to head with Supreme Council is a very unpopular causeespecially in a climate of political uncertainty. Recent polls show the Army scoring massively high approval levels with the people, and the SCAF widely popular as well. Field Marshall Tantawy, in a recent poll scored extremely high favourability numbers with the people, and he has a solid chance of winning the Presidency if he decides to run for it, based on numbers I find quite logical based on what I hear in the streets from people of many kinds. In a country where (according to another poll) more than 42% of Egyptian don't even know who Essam Sharaf is, the army is a clear source of confidence and comfort. They dislike it when the army is verbally attacked, and the field Marshall is widely seen as a respectable figurehead and calm leader in difficult times, as per recent polls. While everyone is free to express their opinions and it is very important to be critical when criticism is needed, I am simply noting, among others, that expressing general anti-army or anti-SCAF sentiments is highly unpopular as well in the streets.

And for those who want a shocker, many tell me that they express openly their desire for a trial of Mubarak, but either they actually: hope he just leaves the country somehow and gets this over with; turns out to be innocent at the end of the trial; or just left to be until he dies of his disease and age. The news of Mubarak's cancer, his psychological condition and the humiliation of the "Royal Family" and the once leader of the nation still causes a significant degree of sympathy with the Egyptian Street, and I am willing to bet that there are still pockets of silent resistance to any real humiliation of the man. I am not recommending anything here, but just adding a point for a wider perspective. I am just stating the current marketing of many big demands have failed to win over the public, for one reason or the other. But one thing I would recommend is that protesters need to show, whether they are expressing anger against the army or the police or the Judicial system, that they do recognise that there are positive elements within these institutions, and that they are not bundling. 

10- The division of the country into two camps after the Referendum on the constitutional amendments has left a deep scar. Most of the more famous activists on Twitter and Facebook (at least to my eyes) were on the NO side of the argument, and often used extremely rude, dismissive, and emotional arguments against the YES camp, making them feel they "just didn't understand anything." The YES camp of course had its own rational argument, but a significant percentage of it voted YES out of religious intimidation and other pressure tools. Later on, the NO camp formed the genesis of the CONSTITUTION FIRST movement, calling for writing and passing a new Constitution before the elections, or at least postponing the elections a bit. They made solid arguments, but the history of interaction with them, as well as some apparent attempts to force a Constitution-First decision by the Supreme Council Of The Armed Forces, has lead many of the YES camp (who were more than 75% of the vote) to feel that they were being charged again with idiocy, and that they were being dismissed again and circumvented and that democracy was being ignored in its first trial ever in the history of Egypt. That created even more enemies, out of a very large camp of people. Of course, sadly, a lot of this enmity and ill will was caused by improper information distributed by Right-Wing and Religio-Political leaders of that camp as well. To be sure, the NO camp has its own share of misinformers and dubious figures. Both sides played more on the emotions rather than on the facts. Facts can be re-argued, but once emotions are charged, they are very hard to re-tune.

Religious signs used to force some people into approving the Constitutional Amendments, claiming that approval was a "religious duty." Suicide, anyone?

11- Some Egyptians see the protesting youth as foreign looking and not truly Egyptian, due to unequal media focus on some specific strata of people a lot of the time: A colleague of mine also noted the feeling of Xenophobia that ironically some Egyptians feel towards the Revolutionaries. Many of the more visible ones appear to be either foreign educated, raised abroad, or just, as mentioned, appear different and foreign. And while the revolution involved all people in society, the media focused for a while on the more "presentable" revolutionaries, often middle and upper-middle class individuals, alienating some of the core of the Egyptian population. A few months back I was participating in a small protest midweek expressing rage at the performance of the previous government of Ahmed Shafiq and calling for its downfall, I had a phone call and the caller asked me a religious question and I answered. Following that, a man came up to me on the side and said: "you seem religious and a true Egyptian. I can talk to you comfortably. I don't know why all these kids are so westernised. They're unreligious and want us to abandon our traditions, and that is why they are doing this. I hope they shut up and fail and go home." As months have passed, I heard similar statements many times on the streets, on different occasions.

Also, the usage of foreign-inspired graphics and iconography is some cases rather than creating imagery based more and more on the Egyptian culture, seems to be an opportunity missed at emotionally connecting with more people. For example, the 6 of April movement uses, as mentioned, a modified version of the OTPOR logo, instead of something more Egyptian, more connected, something that can immediately convey a desired meaning. Related to that as well, although more of a side note, many political parties are using logos that just don't strike an Egyptian or an emotional chord.

12- The Political Split between Parties and Egyptian Political Movements has begun, including slandering, ad hominem attacks, and partisan campaigns that drive wedges between people: The relationship between the Conservative/Religious, Liberal and/or Capitalist, and Leftists groups, the three main players on the field, is turning hostile, filled with sarcasm, disrespect, and accusations, and many have begun looking at partisan benefits over the national good, and in the process vilifying the others and associating protests with general goals to partisan groups.  While I shy of course at making these accusations, but I have witnessed many of them personally. Some of the right wing groups have been very dismissive of anything that could cause, directly or indirecly, a delay to the elections, especially while they hold a lead in the poll, and more than once (including this week, before July 8th) asked their followers to stay away from the protests, almost regardless of their purpose. An Islamists group even decided to offer free medical treatments for the less financially capable during the hours of the next Protest on July the 8th. While this is normal in standard times in politics, it needs to be postponed a bit more. It will not be averted, but it needs to be delayed more until the country moves beyond these milestone moments, especially the remaining reforms charged with cleaning up the remnants of the Mubarak regime. The time for fake smiles is not over, and there needs to be, as mentioned in a previous point, an effort to re-unite these forces around the more common and universally agreed upon goals.

Representitives of Egyptian Parties in the newly formed National Coalition

13- There needs to be greater filtering of information: Most of the youth and people on Twitter and Facebook seem to pass rumours and information without properly indicating that they are un-sourced or just purported unproved pieces of supposed news. In some cases even, a wrong piece of information can cause massive online or even public reactions and outcries, over what turns out to be inaccurate or even altogether untrue information. Once the source of such rumour or improper information is proven to be indeed online information run wild by improper sharing and immediate belief by the sharers, many (especially of the older generation) tend to blame, with some truth, the youth automatically, especially if there were some clear negative consequences of this false information.

14- Revolutionary Youth needs to be more capable of controlling their image in the media and in affecting the media and its agenda directly when they need to: Most importantly, and perhaps in summary of this entire article, the activists need to better learn how properly use the media to affect public opinion and their own image in the people's eyes and minds. And by media I mean Radio, Television, Newspapers, Handouts and Flyers, and the Internet, and everything else that remains. While they are very tech savvy and omnipresent audio-visually, Activists play the role of guests and commentators in the media at this point, but do not directly and sufficiently affect the media as much as they could and focus its attention at will. They need to organise and create a proper pressure group that can instantly affect media coverage and opinion and rally public support around important issues. They need to be more capable of connecting to the media and influence it's agenda and coverage rather than play the role of regular guest on Talk shows, make a Facebook Page, or rally people on twitter.

ONTV, with people like Youssri Fouda and Reem Magued, has been gaining a reputation as the voice of the Revolution. Reem Magued in particular has been playing an excellent role communicating with the Activists and advocating their causes. 

(*) So, what is the danger of all of this? For starters, the entire revolution can collapse, or take a U-turn. In the Ukraine, the winners of the once epic Orange Revolution are now out of office, and the defeated Yanukovich, the Pro Russia Leader, is now in office as President. The second leading figure of the Revolution is standing trial now, Yulia Tymoshenko. Mikhail Saakashvili, a leader of the Rose Revolution that threw the previous government, is losing popularity by the second, and his rivals are gaining points everyday. While all of these examples, and others, are for different reasons, including mismanagement and corruption and failure to lead, but they do show that Revolutions don't necessarily always survive. They can end, and people can go back to how they were. The previous regime or equally bad new ones can find a way to power, if the public fails to always remain connected to the revolution.

From the Orange Revolution. Revolution has been reversed, and the defeated are back into power, democratically.

(*) I am not going to get into full detail about what should or could be done, as that is up to different interpretations, and as I preferred to focus on analysing what seemed to have gone wrong. In some way or another I seem to present my own answers within the lines at certain points, but for the sake of any illusion of brevity, I will stop there. But there are the certain facts. We need to understand that the youth, for the most, is no longer entirely and widely seen as revolutionaries, but rather as pressure groups and activists in the public eye, partially due to the perception that the revolution is over. That requires more attention to the nature of the people, how to win them over, a game of politics mixed with revolutionary fervour, and it requires often a tightrope walk for the sake of good. There needs to be a reengagement with the public, attempts towards greater displays of humility and respect of everyone and their opinions, an attempt to involve and agree with everyone rather than be dismissive and disrespectful, an attempt to show greater respect for older generations, a greater focus on specific and popular goals in each time period, a re-presentation of these goals in an attractive manner, an exploration of the role of other tools in addition to protests (such as Media), an attempt to network with the new political parties and create a climate of mutual respect for as humanly long as possible, avoiding any violence with security personnel even if initiated by them, and a true reaching out to the public. If people are to care even more again, it is time for a different game plan, one that requires even more attention to Politics and the uniqueness of the society. 

Victory was, is, and will be ours.


Note: with contributions from Tamer Ismail @tamerski, Karim Shafei @KarShaf, Mohammed Kamel @MohHKamel, Kareem Ibrahim @Kairien, Moataz Abou_Eita @Abou_Eita, Radwa El Shami @Radwaelshami, Sara Labib @Sara_Labib, Democracy Review @DemocracyReview, @Cairowire and @Zeinobia. Contributions DO NOT indicate their approval of the contents, but rather their suggestions, critique, thoughts, help and edits.

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