Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Letters from Egypt: Protests du Jour

I've used this photo numerous times that I took on February 11, 2011
Fighting for the right to vote and then boycotting elections because you don’t like the options is the real setback to democracy.

Is the current situation in Egypt really shocking? I was in Tahrir on January 25, January 28 and February 11, 2011. I went alone. I walked from the Maadi Cornishe all the way to downtown, approximately 1.5 hours. And I detailed my experiences on this blog. I wrote on January 25, 2011: “They discuss poverty and the Mubarak regime, but as protests continue to rock throughout Egypt – not just Cairo – does anyone have the faintest idea as to what will be next? I asked those around me, ‘If you don’t want Mubarak, who do you want?’ They responded, ‘We want to be equal.’”

On January 26, 2011, I wrote about my cab driver, Farouq (who also had a rigged meter). He said: “’The Egyptian people are tired of Mubarak. Food is getting too expensive. [Term limits] should be made. Everyone is poor.’” Beltone Financial released figures in July 2012 that detailed the increase of food prices – up 10.84% in April 2012 and 10.81% in May year-on-year.

I asked on January 27, 2011 if the average Egyptian protestor thought about what was next. I also said: “I’m excited that Egyptians are passionate about something other than an Ahly vs Zamalak football match, and any human being deserves the right to ask for a better life.” I also pointed out that the government knew about the planned demonstrations nearly 1.5 weeks in advance and they allowed them to occur to show Egyptians that they do have the right to voice their concerns.

While I said that was possibly Mubarak’s most fatal move, it also seems that something else I predicted happened: Egyptians taking to Tahrir every time they are disgruntled with something. “Instead of the original protests that had educated Egyptians across various levels of society and industries, Tahrir Square is considered a carnival or festival. My friend Ahmed was in Tahrir on Tuesday and he said, ‘This whole revolution is bullsh*t.’ He continued, ‘Everybody here is just here to slack around.’” I also said on February 10: “I want to stress the point that it wasn’t like this in the beginning. The days that I wrote on my blog about the protests are proud moments for me and should be proud moments for Egyptians.”

However, if you take to Tahrir as has been done over the past 1.5 years every time you are disgruntled, how are any protests different and significant?

On February 11, hours prior to Mubarak stepping down I documented how for the first time in my period in Egypt, I saw Egyptians picking up trash from the ground. Not because they were told to do so, but because they took pride in it. I added: “I think that the military is giving cues that perhaps they will take control soon. Just a reminder, military rule is harder to rise against. Just ask the rest of Africa.” I wondered a week or so later: “It will be interesting in a month from now to see if people are still so anti-Mubarak and patriotic.” Oh the irony…

Then look at Egypt’s presidential history in “The Meaning of Change” which had people failing to see past the nose on their face and understanding that post-Pharaoh era has seen nothing but military rule.  “Celebrating military rule, or like many have said: ‘Anything is better than Mubarak,’ is a little hasty especially if taking into account the country’s previous rulers.” And I could go on and on through old blogs post revolution, but I think you get the point.

So onto a popular news article that is circulating among many present in Egypt: The Telegraph’s “Army Misrule is Turning Egypt into Pakistan.” First of all, the author is an academic – which for some reason many academics believe that look and comparing case studies without on-the-ground intel is enough to draw a fair and accurate portrayal. Dear World of Academia, get your nose out of the books and experience real life because the real deal doesn’t always fall under a case study. The author, Shashank Joshi, has done many comparisons like “Is Syria the Next Iraq?”

I was actually disturbed by his article comparing Egypt and Pakistan. There are many similarities and I will be the first to admit, but this rant was ill-informed and full of inaccuracies. Where is the proof to back up this (particularly the state-sanctioned rape):

“For 16 months, SCAF has gone on a rampage of state-sanctioned rape, torture, repression and misrule.”

How about: “Like most armies that think they can govern, they have driven the economy into the ground.” Not true. The Egyptian army is essentially a business. The military’s exact assets are confidential, but estimates run at about 5-45% of Egypt’s total economy. The country’s GDP in 2009 was 6.4% and dropped by 4.2% post-revolution. The military hasn’t run the economy into the ground, the regular protests du jour that have occurred over the smallest things have driven the economy into the ground.

Joshi said, “By now, Egypt should have had a parliament, a constitution and a president. It may end up with none of these.” Tunisia doesn’t have this either and Libya just delayed its post-revolution elections as well. Why aren’t they compared to Pakistan seeing as how Tunisia and Libya are both tribal countries – like Pakistan – and UNLIKE Egypt.

Then he said, “But no one came out of these with much credit, and a large chunk of candidates was disqualified on a whim.” A former military and Mubarak’s ex-spy chief was denied a chance at running in the elections as was a Salafist whose mother had a US passport (which goes against the constitution). While discrepancies will certainly occur in the first go at the electoral process, it wasn’t as though SCAF rejected claims of only ONE particular party. Furthermore, Shafiq was only appointed Prime Minister as a last-ditch effort by Mubarak to appease protestors. He served about two weeks in Mubarak’s last days and three weeks following the former leader’s ousting. That does not constitute as being a part of the old regime per se nor did he have time to implement anything within the country that people could be angry over.

And what is this: “To top it all, the election produced a horribly polarising outcome: a run-off between Ahmed Shafiq, Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister and a squalid emblem of the old guard, and Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s man.” I’m sorry, but Joshi, did you read the candidate lists and their platforms? There was only ONE official MB candidate, one “falool” (old regime) candidate, one Salafi and about 10 so-called liberals. I understand that you are a Harvard University’s Department of Government, but I suppose you don’t look at how votes are split when running a variety of candidates on the same or similar platform. Therefore, the run-offs were actually very fair if you think about it. The MB only had one candidate and only one person that for many signify the return of stability which in their minds equal someone from Mubarak’s quarters. And then for those that want real change, but without the hard-line religion, they had 10 different options to choose from. Yes, that clearly seems unfair… And clearly you did your research on Shafiq being a part of the old regime…

The basic point is that many people are complaining about their choices, but the fact of the matter is, the liberals couldn’t seem to get together and produce ONE voice. Instead, everyone wanted to stand alone and be an individual. Neither works well for a potential leader.

And what kind of potential leader says if he does not win, his party will “set fire to Egypt”? Yes, that’s really putting the country first…

Muslim Brotherhood says if Moursy doesn't win, they will "set fire to Egypt"

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