Sign: “The people who produce half a revolution, dig their own grave”
February 24, 2011
Many groups in Egypt are now working for political change – progressive and regressive, transparent and dubious – for the power of the Mubarak regime was never relinquished in substance. While the army has benefitted most from the revolution – by having its image shine beyond its wildest dreams and by having rid itself of its most likely rival, Mubarak’s son Gamal – it is by no means clear which direction the Higher Army Council is taking the country. What is clear is that the Council is in the process of consolidating its already formidable position as the unrivalled arbiter of political change in Egypt.
To that end, the Council has asked a group of constitutional scholars and jurors to amend six of the most contentious items in the constitution within ten days in order to put the proposed changes to a referendum by the Egyptian people within two months. This appears to be a step toward the establishment of a legitimate representative government, but the time allotted is hardly sufficient for serious deliberations and amendments. Under the circumstances, the time constraint can be justifiably defended, but the lack of any transparent mechanisms for negotiations between the Council and representatives of the people cannot; neither can a tacit threat to deal harshly with future demonstrations and strikes. Such moves suggest that the army is unwilling to move in a democratic direction at this time.
A look at the most prominent discourse making the newspapers and airwaves during the last week is an indication that the army (or parts of it) and elements of the old regime will resist attempts at quick democratic reforms. While paying lip service to the youth, the revolution, and the martyrs, the ubiquitous appeal in all the local media has been to urge Egyptians to get back to work in order to get the economy back on track – as if the economy was ever on track in the first place. This liberal argument has been put forth by very respectable people and suggests that further strikes and demonstrations should be put on hold “for the sake of the economy” and so that political reforms can be properly instituted. Whether or not those advocating this argument are part of the previous regime or not, it feeds into several other rumors, events and arguments that have taken place in the last week and which I am beginning to call the counter-revolution.
First off, who is the counter-revolution and how is it proceeding? In the Egyptian context, who not too difficult to postulate: 1. those officers of the hated state security services who fear being eventually brought to trial (however unlikely that scenario is) for their participation in the systematic torture of Egyptians; 2. people in the secret service who are loyal to the Omar Sulayman; 3. corrupt businessmen who also fear future prosecution and forfeiture of their wealth; 4. the high- and mid-level manipulators and operators of defunct National Democratic Party for whom it would be almost impossible to do a facelift in a new era; 5. media executives, editors-in-chief, journalists and pundits who spinned the most for the Mubarak regime and who are now awaiting their potential ousting; 6. current ministers, including the prime minister, almost every one of whom was appointed by Mubarak, and who are involved in the transition to representative democracy. Theoretically speaking, this means that these very same ministers are working to extinguish their future political life. I may be missing other factions, but these are the most vulnerable groups to the revolution – with the most to lose and the most to hide – and with much power in their hands through which to wage a counter-revolution.
The goal of this counter-revolution is, obviously, to return to the status quo (ante) by using the full arsenal of the media to remove any potential accusations and indictments of deliberate, premeditated torture, corruption, nepotism, and mismanagement. The recent manufactured catchphrases like “forgive and forget,” “let’s start a new blank page,” “let’s look towards the future and not the past” (reminiscent of Obama’s refusal to investigate criminal allegations against former Bush administration officials) have been more common than one’s daily bread. Neither Obama nor the current rhetoric here have convinced me of the supposedly diametrical contradiction between moving toward a more representative system and bringing to trial the most criminal elements of the previous regime. But “let’s keep the revolution white,” yet another of the newly spinned media slogans is an attempt to pander to Egyptians’ basic decency. My favorite, rabbit-out-of-hat, government-spun slogan in the last week has been “we need to change ourselves before we can change our country,” as if the transformative experiences of Tahrir never took place.
Just as the young, tech-savvy activists had done before January 25, the counter-revolution has turned to social media as a weapon: calls are on the rise for demonstrations that seem to have no rhyme or reason other than to demonstrate for the sake of demonstrating. Last Tuesday’s demonstration in Tahrir Square is a case in point as it was impossible to say which specific groups called for it – certainly not the leftists. Although leftists and socialists have argued that demonstrations, strikes, and sit-ins must continue in order to maintain pressure on the Higher Army Council and to keep the momentum of the revolution going, those actions must have clear and realistic goals otherwise they will fail. Tuesday’s demonstration – which never exceeded 4,000 people (in my estimate) – had no clear goal and was infiltrated by dozens if not hundreds of undercover security personnel.
Recent incidents on Facebook groups indicate that there is an attempt to increase the number of demonstrations in order to splinter groups and dissipate their effect, by for example, infiltrating them with security elements as in last Tuesday’s demonstration, or by possibly trying to move demonstrations in a violent direction, or even by making demands that are out of touch with the public sentiment. These are all tactics that reek of the previous regime’s tactics and the rise in the number of Facebook groups, the addition of dozens of new “individuals” to older groups, and the removal of some individuals and even admins from groups by unknowns all indicate that there is an attempt to use these media to turn demonstrations into a toothless activity that will eventually lose credibility in the public eye.
Increasing the number of demonstrations while will also give credence to claims that demonstrators are creating chaos and destroying the economy, a strategy that could potentially make the “stability” of the Mubarak regime appear in another light. Mubarak himself has been part of last week’s rumor-mongering – another attempt by the counter-revolution to rewrite recent history. The whereabouts of Mubarak have not been reported anywhere as far as I know, yet unsubstantiated rumors about Mubarak are widespread: he is suffering from illness yet unwilling to leave his homeland; or his sons are bickering about who is responsible for his downfall have played on people’s basic decency.
While Mubarak is currently being framed in nostalgic terms, Wael Ghoneim, who is emerging as the most prominent figure of the revolution, is alternatively written and talked about as a foreign stooge, a member of the free masons, and even as a yes-man for the security services. Or, believe it or not, he’s a hero. There is no doubt that he was put under tremendous, inhuman “pressure” during his days in captivity; and there is no doubt that his political views are naïve and undeveloped as has become clear from his recent string of interviews. But he has been painted in so many colors in order to make the public wary of him and other figures associated with the Revolution. The counter-revolution is using all the media at their disposal to paint a nostalgic picture of the Mubarak era while simultaneously making all the accusations against his security apparatus and cronies appear unreal and unbelievable. All the while, prominent figures from the revolution are caste in a dubious light, making them appear like chameleons.
In fact, there are elements of the counter-revolution that are changing colors faster than a chameleon can. Hossam Badrawi’s attempt to form a new party called 25 January is one attempt at this kind of instant facelift. Badrawi, a former ranking member of the discredited NDP who was appointed to head the Party in Mubarak’s final days, is now regrouping former young NDP cadres into a “new” political party that is adopting the name and rhetoric of the revolution.
The media blitz has been uninterrupted in the last week despite attempts by honest journalists and others to take-over their media outlets from Mubarak cronies. Mona Shazly, whose program 10pm has a large following, deserves to become an honorary member of the High Army Council after her performance three nights ago when she interviewed three of its generals and only one young activist. She helped paint the military in the best possible light by allowing the generals to repeat the same vapid media catchphrases: “forgive and forget,” “we are all one,” and “Egypt is above all,” which is reminiscent of facist Germany. It was a tour de force which only suggests to me that this police state will be able to get away with the same crimes that it has been committing every day of the last 30 years.
Still, the High Army Council has taken some steps to keep the trust of most Egyptians, like the arrest of several former prominent figures and profiteers of the Mubarak regime, including Ahmed Ezz, Zuheir Garrana, Habib alAdly, and Ahmed Maghrabi. A further series of arrests has been reported today, but missing from the list of those arrested are two of the pillars of the Mubarak regime Safwat alSherif (who served as Minister of Information for some twenty years and Secretary-General of the NDP until a week before Mubarak’s resignation) and Fathi Surour, (the former speaker of the Parliament for twenty years). Both Surour and Sherif, whose corruption has been rumored to be spectacular, have disappeared completely, and it is impossible to say whether the High Army Council has been complicit in this disappearing act or not.
However, these arrests can also be seen as a mere palliative: the High Army Council and elements of the former regime are making cosmetic changes, offering some of the most corrupt and hated figures for sacrifice, in order to continue with business as usual. Such high-value media campaigns will not secure the public’s complete trust: after the arrest and arraignment of the former Minister of Torture as he was commonly known here (incidentally, he was arraigned on charges of corruption and not the systematic use of torture!), people asked where Habib al Adly was being kept? The answer: in solitary confinement at the Presidential Palace.
The public has a right to be skeptical because the High Army Council has not repealed the Emergency Law. And yesterday’s ministerial shuffle kept all the important portfolios in the hands of Mubarak-appointed cronies. Still, strikers in Mahalla and Suez did not suffer at the hands of the army.
The situation remains fluid at one level, and it is difficult to say exactly how much the Egyptian Revolution will benefit the people of the country. Workers are in the process of forming the first independent labor union in the country; labor in several sectors and cities have succeeded – even after the tacit threat of force – in having their demands for better wages, conditions, and new management met; journalists are campaigning to get rid of the editors-in-chief of the largest official newspapers, and they succeeded in ousting the Secretary-General of the Journalists’ Syndicate; the Muslim Brotherhood is forming an official political party and a newspaper. People are beginning to conceive of taking affairs in their own hands.
The darker facts remain as well: people were tortured during the Revolution under the army’s supervision; there are still people who unaccounted , and the security apparatus remains in place.
In one sense, nothing has changed, but there is also a sense of possibility in the air.
Some videos people might not have seen, given that I do not know what has been circulating abroad:
car that ran over many people in cairo, watch 30 seconds into clip
Suez police running over people
killing after 15 seconds of unarmed kid in cold blood
killing of kid in alex in cold blood at 2:20
thugs in police truck terrorize people