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Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Looking beyond Tahrir

While activists in Tahrir call for reviving the revolution, outside the square people want elections and a government to get on with building a better Egypt

Marie Girod , Monday 28 Nov 2011
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Despite the general distrust, all sections of the population took part in the latest protests in Tahrir; young and old, couples throwing stones together, all social classes were represented; many people around were supportive, makeshift hospitals very active. They faced so much violence that I fully understand the anger and “no way back” stance on entrusting the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) with anything, a feeling I share as an individual. But we need also to keep an eye on what is going on outside the square, considered the most famous square in the world since 10 months. We have to get away from the fancy, the heroic, and the romanticised picture of it.

At the dawn of parliamentary elections in Egypt, we seem to have reached a point of no return between the revolutionaries and the army. From both sides, we are offered radicalism, nothing else. The revolutionaries accuse SCAF of being unwilling to organise a fair and democratic poll, while a part of the revolutionaries intend to disrupt the elections, sounding anti-democratic to the majority of the population who hope to take a chance with the transition, believing the army is fairly paving the way to a better Egypt. This radicalism took shape for six days in a row, with high-level violence and vicious tactics from both the police and the army. On the other hand, this violence is leading part of the revolutionaries — especially the fighters — to consider also taking up weapons to fight the old regime on the ground and prevent the elections from taking place.

The fact that the various forces participating in the Tahrir protests did not elaborate a viable and robust programme (politics, economics, geostrategic), involving the people for the future of Egypt, left space for such radicalism. It seems today like it is too late to build anything that could influence the vote and justify poll disruption. On Friday, 25 November, in the square opinions were very scattered. Of course, we have to be glad for seeing the square crowded like it was in the days immediately preceding and following the fall of Hosni Mubarak. But everybody there was celebrating according to different positions. Some want elections, others don’t; others were distributing flyers for their parties or coalition, but how many parties and coalitions have sprung up by now? It looks messy. How far do these parties represent the people as a whole, and do the Egyptian people know them, what they want and want from them?

The revolutionaries claim that we are seeing a second revolution. But 10 months have passed since the first one, and ever since, ordinary people kept focus on the economy and on their daily life difficulties on a smaller scale. No one really consulted with the people who are out of Tahrir although the labour unions and local councils have made major revolutionary achievements. Tahrir keeps on focusing on the goal of putting paid to military rule with the “No SCAF” campaign, victimising themselves, instead of leaving the task of working on arrests and torture cases to human rights organisations and building on other issues. The risk is, if the revolutionary movement —which is not of but one colour —tries to prevent the elections, people will feel like a coup is being made by them, and SCAF will appear as a protective force against the revolutionaries. The way the revolution claims to protect itself now is maybe also the signature of its self-destruction.

They say, “Look, we are about to have elections but we are being killed.” Counting on the Ultras (football fanatics) to deal with protecting Tahrir is a dangerous game. I remember two years ago during winter, hooligans were marching all over downtown Cairo chanting against Algerians because of clashes that erupted at football matches between Egypt and Algeria. I felt these young guys, here revenging Egypt for silly reasons, had great potential to fight and resist if a larger and legitimate goal concerning the country was to be their focus, like the fall of the regime. But these youngsters are not politicised, whatever some would like to think about Tahrir Square. They should be celebrated for being brave, but not entrusted to carry through the demands of the people who protest from Tahrir.

On Friday, 25 November, Al-Ahram newspaper’s front page headline was titled, “Elections or chaos,” showing young people standing and screaming in front a wall built in downtown Cairo by the army, to prevent confrontation between Ministry of Interior forces and Tahrir protesters. Unfortunately, this is how people in Egypt will summarise the situation if violence takes place during the poll in the name of the revolution. Tahrir Square will have to account for that. Would Tahrir do so if it happens?

We are bluntly faced with the 30 years of Mubarak’s era, which prevented political experience, awareness, criticism, and self-criticism. Some revolutionaries seem so self-confident while falling victim of short memories regarding the positions they adopted on the referendum or the steps to be taken in the transitional process. Many revolutionaries complain about a lack of education and even levels of ignorance of the Egyptian people to justify the current level of political immaturity —‘It is not people’s fault’. It is a fact that the 30 years of political repression affected all in society. Ten months since the fall of Mubarak are not enough to change mentalities and imagine the future on a long term, but any political position has to be justified in front of all, and lessons have to be learnt.

At the dawn of the first phase of the elections it seems too late. Aside from the frontlines, these 10 months provided a pretty good level of freedom of expression in the public sphere, much greater compared with what it was before Mubarak’s fall. This brought lots of enthusiasm and energy but did not result in unified programmes, proposals, or serious coalitions so as to achieve long-term revolutionary goals. As a result, if the military junta makes a coup, or if the “feared” Muslim Brotherhood take over the country via the transitional process, we will, for sure, have a lot of time to think, because less or no space will be provided for talking or struggle.

The writer is a French journalist based in Cairo.

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