Rafet Al-Farasha (Butterfly’s Flutter), by Ahmed Bahaa Shabaan, Cairo: Kefaya Publications, 2006. pp 287.
Just over seven years ago on 12 December 2004, the Kefaya (Enough) movement marked Human Rights Day and surprised everyone by demonstrating peacefully in front of the High Court in Cairo.
Their demonstrations continued and have contributed tremendously, not only to other political movements, but through their peaceful protests, laying the foundations for the 25 January revolution in Egypt.
Rafet Al-Farasha (Butterfly’s Flutter), first published by Kefaya publications in 2006, is an important book and its author Ahmed Shabaan, a leader in the student movements in 1972, is one of the founders of Kefaya.
In the introduction, he explains the choice of title of the book. “The best way to describe the effect Kefaya had in Egypt and the rest of the Arab world, is the ‘butterfly effect’ theory.” This theory has been used to describe the links and interactions occurring as a result of one small movement, which creates a sequence of events.
Kefaya was, especially during its earlier years, similar to the fluttering of the wings of a butterfly. People carried their banners and exercised their rights in peaceful demonstrations, following years of suppression and deprivation of their basic rights. This little flutter turned into massive demonstrations and peaceful protests in many Egyptian cities, and even in other Arab countries.
The book contains a large number of articles previously published in various newspapers and magazines, or presented as research papers at conferences. It is divided into four main sections: introductions and impacts, the political movement in the region, the debate around Kefaya, and its future.
The birth of the movement was dramatic. On 22 September its founders had their first conference in the “Sons from the south of Egypt NGO” at the same time as the ruling National Democratic Party were holding their annual conference. Nearly 500 people attended this conference and declared the “Movement for Change”, bringing together a wide array of Egyptians who belonged to various political groups, ideologies and goals. The conference assigned a group to manage the daily activities, and elected 35 members to form the secretariat.
In its initial meeting, the committee issued its first statement “No to inheritance … no to extension”, articulating its objection to the monopoly of power. The committee also adopted its slogan, the famous “Kefaya” (Enough).
Within a few months, the movement organised a number of peaceful demonstrations, establishing their right to take to the streets. One took place in Kasr El-Nil in downtown Cairo near the parliament buildings in January 2005, then another at the entrance to Cairo University in February.
On 30 April they organised demonstrations to take place in fifteen governorates simultaneously, as well as a demo to support the Palestinian cause in July 2006. They also demonstrated against the US Secretary of Foreign Affairs Condoleezza Rice in June 2005 and again in July, protesting against the presidential nomination of Mubarak.
One demonstration turned violent around the metro station at Saad Zaghloul in downtown Cairo on the day of the referendum earlier this month, and another in front of the Syndicate of Journalists building where some participants were severely injured.
The movement is credited with having crossed the boundaries set by the regime when it openly confronted the continuation of Mubarak’s era, until then considered a taboo subject. Credit is also due to the movement for heading to the streets without asking permission from the authorities, ignoring the emergency law and the political movement regulations. They were also able to utilise the “open skies”, using satellite channels, the internet and the international media to broadcast their events minute by minute.
But maybe the most important stance the movement took was its refusal to accept any external foreign funding, maintaining its authenticity. This position reflected their profound understanding of the US and European penetration into civil society, corrupting its agencies and many politicians.
In its statement issued in March 2005, the movement declared that the internal political tyranny and the external invasion were two sides of the same coin.
Shabaan confirms that the spread of the movement’s ideas and thinking was because society was prepared to accept legitimate requests for change, after numerous economic, political and social crises. Many State institutions were collapsing with the increase in corruption and the decrease in the standard of living, with a growing army of unemployed.
The book ends in 2006, but the following years witnessed a great deal of internal struggle in the movement, as well as the stranglehold the regime held over it and it seemed almost finished.
Despite this, it is still recognised as having led the way in breaking down the barriers to prepare for the 25 January revolution in Egypt.