Tahrir Crowds

Tahrir Crowds
Midan Tahrir, 1 Feb 2011

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Hell that is Libya

A journalist just back from Libya told me today, "The Arab World will need to repopulate Libya. This generation of men is being wiped out." He said that men between ages 15 to 35 are being pressured into the army. A young man is approached and asked, "Who are you for? Are you with the army (Qaddafi) or with the rebels?" Naturally in that situation, the young man says he supports the army. He may not in fact, but now he's in the army. The officers watch him over time, and if he gives any hint of views critical of Qaddafi, his life isn't worth much.

Will the army split over Qaddaffi? No, the journalist insisted. The soldiers mentality is one of following orders. "Yes, sir. As you say sir. Is this OK, sir? They don't know how to think for themselves."

Will the army support democracy? "They will be the last ones to support democracy," he said. "They only understand following orders. They don't have a clue what democracy means."

There's no such thing as a good war.  Dylan's Masters of War says it well:

Friday, March 25, 2011

Co-optation and Counter Revolution

The revolution's supporters have two main fears currently:  co-optation of the revolution and counter-revolution.

Co-optation can be seen in many new music videos featuring footage of the demonstrations and patriotic songs are airing on TV.  New TV talk shows have sprung up, even on the government stations, to discuss the issues raised by the revolution, sometimes featuring participants of the revolution, sometimes featuring officials and "experts."  Various companies are posting messages on billboards around town, written on the Egyptian flag, the main symbol of the revolution, and implying the companies supported the Revolution.  From the beginning of its entry on the streets, the Egyptian army has tried to pretend to be a friend of the Revolution.

The Counter-Revolution is clearly underway.  Some 1500 thugs removed the second encampment of demonstrators from Tahrir Square two weeks ago, with the army tear-gassing the demonstrators and firing rubber bullets, then moving in to prevent the demonstrators' return.  The next day the water was left running in the garden area, and it continues to be one very large puddle, making it impossible to pitch tents there again.

The police are mostly back in the streets, although we hear some have been laid off, some arrested, and some are under investigation for various crimes, especially corruption.  It's now up to the citizens to resist paying bribes or baksheesh--which takes a lot of courage.

The dreaded--and dreadful-- Amna Dowla, Central Security Police (the secret police who spied on everyone, tortured and kidnapped many, performed Extraordinary Rendition for the US and generally made mess) has been officially disbanded.  And now we have the Amna Watany, the National Police-- "a rose by any other name" still smells disgusting.  Many people feel they are still working the same ways as before, just keeping a lower profile.  Some secret police are being prosecuted, most importantly the former head of the Ministry of the Interior, (the home of the Amna Dowla), Habib el-Adly is charged with multiple counts of murder and attempted murder for ordering the killing of demonstrators.  Many people have been amazed at his arrest--it is certainly significant.  But we have to wait to see what happens, the outcome of the trial, before too much rejoicing.  If he is ultimately acquitted, it will be a hollow move indeed.  More to the point is to investigate, prosecute, and ban from future government employment, ALL the members of the police and Ministry of Interior for their political crimes.  Their dirty dealing was uniform across the agencies, not involving only a few rotten eggs.  Both the Judges Union and the Lawyers' Union participated in the Revolution, so the will may be there, but that is an enormous job.  Meanwhile, the police, secret police, and army may block these efforts.

Of immediate concern is a new law criminalizing public demonstrations and imposing stiff penalities for organizing them. See this report for details  http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/372988.  Fortunately, the Coalition of Revolutionary Youth plans to protest this today, in front of the State Broadcasting Building.

The need remains to repeal the State of Emergency Laws, which have curtailed freedoms all of Mubarak's years in office.  This is one of the goals of the 25 January Revolution.  With the army now in control, this will be an uphill battle.  I pray the revolutionaries will keep the pressure on the government, will in the words of the old Spiritual, "stay on the battlefield," nonviolently, until the many needed changes are in place.

Why The Nonviolent Revolution Succeeded

If you want to know my analysis of the 25 January Revolution, here is a summary from a recent interview I gave to Rose Berger of Sojournors' Magazine.

I think the effort was ‘classic nonviolence’ in practice. The organizing groups did many things that are recommended by those who study Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Gene Sharp, Michael Nagler, and other contributors to peace studies.” I identified eight “best practices” used by organizers that led to a successful nonviolent campaign in Egypt:

1. Clear Goals. They clearly identified their goals early on. They were posted in Tahrir Square for everyone to see. The organizers stuck to these goals, even when pressured to settle for less.

2. Broad Base. The organizers built a wide coalition across Egyptian civil society—including the whole political spectrum; Muslims and Christians, farmers, students, and labor; the poor and the wealthy.

3. Women. They created a safe place for women. The organizers encouraged and welcomed the participation of women and children, something that is crucial for the security of everyone. They made it clear that the sexual harassment of women was not allowed, (this is something which is a big problem in Cairo), thereby making it safe for women to participate.

4. Cultivating positive relations with the army. The organizers actively and strategically cultivated a positive relationship with the army. After the police withdrew, organizers brought the soldiers tea, flowers, and lots of kisses.  I think this is based on the organizers understanding of nonviolence, as well as their study of recent successful nonviolent revolutions,  to which the army either did not intervene or actively supported the change, such as in Serbia.  

5. Cultural Enjoyment. They made the demonstrations fun!  Inside Tahrir Square there were a number of stages--one had speakers, at another someone led chants. There were stages with musicians, singing, and comedy acts. They offered face painting and lots of art, especially cartoons for posters. Organizers created a sense of community—of the “New Egypt"--inside Tahrir Square.

6. Creating Community. Participants organized to address their own needs. Citizen teams erected tents for those who wanted to stay, mobilized morning clean-up crews, and provided security, in addition to opening bathrooms, bringing food and water, and establishing both a hospital area and a kindergarten.  While Egypt has no recycling program, they even implemented their own recycling program.

7. Peacekeepers. The organizers’ security crew made it safe to be in the Square.  They put up checkpoints at each entrance at the perimeter and checked identification. They didn’t allow in the police IDs or those of the Ministry of Interior’s secret police. They patted down everyone. The volunteers were very respectful to everyone and apologized for searching people.

8. Open Participation. Meetings were held every evening where all were welcome and a style of participatory decision-making was used to make sure all were heard.

9. Public Opinion. The organizers had the majority of public opinion with them.
Two important myths were debunked by the 25 January Revolution, reported Kamphoefner. First, there is a myth that nonviolent movements must have “a single charismatic leader.” This revolution was led by a coalition of groups. Second, there is a myth is that revolution takes a long time. “Depending on how you measure it,” she continued, “this one took 18 days—though organizers have been busy since 2008.”

The clean-up crews cleaned the normally filthy streets of downtown Cairo for another week after their encampment ended. They did this to symbolize "building a new Egypt."

Kathy Kamphoefner is the director of Refugees United for Peaceful Solutions (www.refugees4peace.org) which provides mediation services, conflict skills training, and nonviolence training to refugee communities in Cairo, Egypt.
January Revolution Succeeded

No Putting this Genie Back in the Bottle!

Coming home from an evening out on Friday, as we sat in our seats on the Metro [subway] train, we were handed a small leaflet on why to vote, "No," in last Saturday's referendum. The leaflet bore the logo of the Coalition of Revolutionary Youth. A discussion quickly began between an older gentleman and his wife, questioning the young man on why he thought the proposed constitutional amendments should be voted down. The two parties continued a lively debate, joined by several listeners and another questioning participant.

Even on state-run TV stations, lively political talk shows have sprung up, featuring speakers representing many different ideas. These are essential baby steps for creating democracy.

This is very heady stuff for Egypt-- a country where before 25 January 2011, political discussions were normally held in private, behind closed doors. In public, few volunteered their points of view about any issues, save those concerning the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Twenty years ago, one never heard a negative public word about Egypt's rulers from the average citizen. More recently, grumblings began about the Mubarak regime-- not with a lot of detail, but communicating the weariness of the citizenry with the regimes' rule. Even such murmurings were remarkable.

Today, freedom of speech is blossoming overnight, debates occurring since the 25 January Revolution began. Now it is one of the purposes served by Tahrir Square: Egyptian tourists are coming to take pictures of their kids in the Square, buy a souveneir or two, and clumping into discussion groups on the sidewalk.

While much of the desired change remains to be implemented, this newly-found freedom of political speech, open, public, rigorous debate, is very heady stuff. Whatever else the revolution achieves or fails to achieve, this is a very significant change. No one can put this genie back in the bottle. Having found their voice, Egyptians are very much enjoying its use.

Monday the results of the Referendum were announced, with about 77% of the vote favoring the new amendments to the constitution. What is especially remarkable was the voter turnout: million voters. For one friend, it took two hours to vote. The polling place was due to close. Prospective voters chanted, "My right, my right!" demanding their right to vote. Previous elections have generated more apathy and considerably interest. Not this one-- now Egyptian citizens insist on expressing their voice through their vote.

"Naem ow le?"  Yes or No? What did these votes on the constitutional amendments mean?

A "Yes" Vote Means:

For some this expressed the longing for a return to stability. Many are either unemployed or haven't been paid since the revolution, and they want a return to normalcy in daily life.

For some, the constitutional amendments were acceptable. The amendments created term limits for the president, for a maximum of two four-year terms. The amendments began to open the door for more fair elections, with the appointment of an Election Commission to oversee the elections, as well as beginning to open the door for the participation of political parties other than the National Democratic Party. (Reform of other laws are still needed, such as whether a religious party can participate).

For some, they want the next elections to take place in six months, either because:
*they don't want the Supreme Military Council to rule any longer than absolutely necessary; or
*their preferred party is already organized and will fair well in six months (as is the case with the NDP, though it may dissolve and reconstitute itself, as well as with the Muslim Brotherhood, which hopes the ban on it being a political party will be abolished).

For some, it is seen as a first step in constitutional reform, not as its end--and they feel is is a reasonable first step.

For some, it was a vote for the Muslim Brotherhood, which has its own elaborate organization on the ground, and has provided charitable work, medical clinics and social services for many years, thereby building positive regard for its organization.

Revolutionaries came out on both sides, though most favored a "No," vote.

A "No" Vote Means:

Some argue than no new political parties will be able to run viable candidates in six months, thereby guaranteeing the old NDP machine will still take at least 40% of seats in the parliament, with the Muslim Brotherhood probably improving its ratio of seats from the current 20% to 30% or better. In other words, the NDP may be able to survive and consolidate its power and reconstitute its rule. It is still the most organized party on the ground. Meanwhile the Brotherhood improves its position. (No surprise that they supported a "yes" vote, though arguably opportunistic).

Some prefer elections be delayed one or two years, in order to educate the public on their rights, on the issues, and allow time for new coalitions to build and organize party infrastructures. This is a common view from the revolutionaries. They know that currently those who are liberal or progressive or who prefer a secular government participate in many groups. At least 25 separate groups worked together for the Revolution. They achieved consensus on the initial goals of Revolution: an end to Mubarak's regime, an end to the Central Security State, an end to military rule, an end to corruption, for free and fair democratic elections (including the reform of existing election law), for freedom of speech and for freedom of association.

Next comes the tough work, the political engagement to implement this goals in real terms, write them into law, and create the mechanisms for these changes. These are incredibly sweeping changes, and their implementation, very complicated. There is no current consensus on how the achieve these goals, on which steps are needed on what order, and it's not easy to know where to start.

The public debate, towards generating some national consensus on how to proceed on these many important changes, is clearly needed. And building consensus on any one of these issues can take a lot of time.

I hope the demonstrators keep the pressure on the army, so that the changes move forward.

Friday, March 18, 2011

New Egyptian Constitutional Amendments Vote Tomorrow

Will the Egyptian army walk the talk?  Will they live up to their promises?  That's the big question in so many of us who participated in or observed the recent revolution.

Tomorrow is the vote on the promised constitutional amendments.  (Link to an English version of the proposed amendments). It contains some positive changes, but still has some less democratic features.  For example, a presidential candidate must have the support of at least 30 members of parliament.  That seems to favor the status quo.  New smaller parties would not be able to meet that ceiling, but could still have a popular enough candidate that could win the vote.

Some provisions are predictable:  the president must be Egyptian, and both his parents must be Egyptian [no Barak Obama for Egypt!], but then Egypt's nationalism is deeply rooted.  More of a concern is can the president only be a "he"?  That's what the language would seem to imply, and there is no additional notation which allows for it to be a female candidate.

Also problematic is the Elections Commission appointed to oversee the electoral process, which seems designed to include primarily the oldest members of government.  The document specifies: "The committee is to be chaired by the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court and comprises the head of the Cairo Court of Appeal, the eldest Supreme Constitutional Court deputy, the eldest head of the Court of Cassation deputy and the eldest deputy of the State Council."  In contrast, it seems to me the Revolution was about getting the old men out of the business of running the government.

In short, it appears that the Supreme Military Council is not really eager for a democracy of the people.  That's hardly surprising.  They are the ruling class, and have been since Egypt's independence in 1956.  They hold a great deal of Egypt's wealth.  As Egypt's formerly state-owned businesses were privatized from the 1990s onward, guess who came to own many of them?

The 25 January Revolution has as its goal the end of the military state, and replacing it with a civilian-led democratic state.  Will the army implement this?  It seems unlikely, which is part of why the revolution continues, with its participants still organizing continuing pressure for the changes sought.

Still, I continue to enjoy my front row seat for this period of change.  One thing it clearly has changed is free speech.  The people have taken this right, and now everyone is speaking his or her mind, including the school children, my teacher friends inform me.  I suspect some schools may even institute student governments and begin leadership training to harness and positively channel their students' newly found voices.