Thursday, February 10, 2005

More on the Egyptian demonstrations

I attended a lecture by Tarek AlBishry yesterday about the 1919 uprising. That guy is just amazing, and so decent. Listening to that lecture felt like I was back in the 1920's in the midst of all the political action going on then! So the lecture was certainly interesting, and it made me think more about what I wrote earlier about the recent presidential demonstrations.

What was awesome about that uprising is that it eventually achieved its goal, by getting rid of the British and the King with the events of 1952. The immediate results of the uprising was that a strong third political power surfaced on the scene, representing the general population, resulting in the 1923 constitution, and 30 years of institutionalizing the uprising. Saad Zaghloul was certainly an exceptional leader, and a very smart politician.

Interestingly enough, for the last 20 years, the only demonstrations that were close enough to being 'real' demonstrations were all about external issues, mainly the Palestinian problem. Countless demonstrations have erupted over the last few years, mostly led by Univeristy students, and some by opposition leaders, sometimes coming out from AlAzhar. I guess its the nature of any demonstration to be over emotional, and not to know how things will turn out. But it seems to me that all of those demonstrations were just that; too emotional and very symbolic. They usually have demands, like "kick out the Israeli ambassador, "khaybar khaybar ya yahood, gaysha Muhammad sawfa ya3ood, "belroo7 beldamm nafdeek ya Islam", but none are really met (except when the Egyptian ambassador to Israel was withdrawn (to go back this week)). The emotional aspect is clearly the most important motive to take the streets and demonstrate, and thus it is the core of any such activity. Too often those demonstrations become a mean for people to vent their anger, and show their solidarity, more than anything else. For some reasons, our leaders seem to be too strong and well supported, that they are never pressured to take any action. Maybe its because they managed to create the void between the general public and the political leadership (what business people would call Middle Management), that there is no one present to steer and manage the demonstrations, and negotiate with the leadership the public's demands, which are blatantly ignored through the ineffective parliament.

I think the people have done more than enough of their share of responsibility regarding those demonstrations. After all, there is so much that their will can do when it comes to non-domestic problems, when the domestic scene is in such chaos.

Then comes those latest demonstrations (if we can call them that). That middle management gap is still there (actually those demonstrators are all middle managers, who have no one to manage!). They are also emotional, yet they have clear demands, but with no means to enforce them or to exert any pressure. I think the most they can hope for, is some embaressment to the President (that's if he's like the rest of us).

I find it abit ironic, that the huge emotional demonstrations, that will never solve the Palestinian problem or save the Iraqi people, achieve more (because they are more of symbolic gestures) than the demonstrations against major domestic problems. And its interesting to me that many more people are highly emotional and are involved in the non-domestic demonstrations --which they can't really solve--, while their domestic problems (which are personal) don't seem to cause the same urge to demonstrate.

The 1919 uprising was quite a unique mark in our history then. Combining enough urge and passion by the people to take the street in demonstrations, along with smart leadership that can capitalize on that power is certainly something exceptional in Egypt.

On a side note, I find it very interesting how the AUC has transformed over the last few years alone. The cost of education there has hit the sky, yet there are more rich people going there every year. You would think that the more expensive the university gets, the richer the students who attend it, the less active those students are in public issues. It seems to be the contrary however! I remember in Ramadan of 1994, the country was boiling with demonstrations every day, because of the Hebron massacre by Goldstein, and at AUC, just a handful of students were barely able to organize a one hour 'sit-in'. Four years ago with the start of the second Intifada, the AUC has become a hotbed for demonstrations. For the first time the security police soldiers aren't sure what to do confronting hot AUCian chicks! I was stunned to see the American flag no where in sight on the main AUC building, and instead a huge Palestinian flag covering the entire building facing Tahrir square. You can clearly see how AUC has transformed.


praktike said...

Everything I know about that period in Egypt is from Naguib Mahfouz!

Mohamed said...

Tarek AlBishri has a book about the 1919 uprising, which I didn't read yet but I'm sure would be a great read. Probably not translated. I guess that's where your Arabic lessons would come in handy Praktike ;)

praktike said...

Well, maybe in four or five years, I'll be able to do that! I'm sure there are some English books out there, but they probably aren't as good.

On another topic, it looks like the government is going to put a stop to al-Ghad altogether. That's too bad. I wonder if there are opportunities for the party to try to build its base of power outside the realm of party politics. What about trying to take over some professional associations, unions, student groups at Cairo University and Al Azhar University, etc.?

Mohamed said...

It is too bad. But it was odd for them to allow the party in the first place. I think it was exceptional the large number of founders in that party (when they only need 50 people).

I doubt that they will be able to build that power base outside of the party lines. I just hope they don't try to smear Nour's reputation in order to prevent any public empathy towards him and his party.

The Muslim Brotherhood already worked through the professional syndicates, and that was an active political playground for a while. Geneive Abdo writes about that very well in her book No god but God. I think it is debatable however whether professional organization are the right places to exercise politics.

praktike said...

Politics is everywhere! It can't be avoided. And if that's the only option for Ghad, maybe it's worth considering.

Ammie said...

Gosh, I didnt' even know that there had been demonstrations in Cairo :o

I'm half English, half Egyptian, I lived over there for four years and left about 5 years ago.

I'm not sure that 5 years ago demonstrations would have been allowed to happen! The 'security' was too tight, and the people wouldn't have been allowed to demonstrate against Mubarak.

I think it's a good thing for Mubarak and for Egypt that he has recognised that the political system in Egypt needs reformation and more democracy (as well as accountability, I think, there's waay too much corruption, there).

Not sure I trust that Ayman Noor though, it would be interesting to hear your opinions, as you live there!

(Great blog, by the way!)

mina said...


I would like to thank you for your gift of this sight. Although you seem to have become somewhat dismayed with what it has seeming become to you, it was indeed a great eye opener as to how much alike we all really are.
I believe that fear, money, and the domination over what some consider the lesser of humanity give rise to a great deal of the problems in this world. I've just completed the book Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks. If you have not read this piece of literature, I would highly recommend it.
My hope is that you bring back your blog. I believe that you were possibly experiencing alittle burnout??? Maybe not. However, it deserves another chance.
I recently returned to school to obtain my law degree and decided to sign up for a few classes in Middle Eastern education. I'm incredibly dismayed with the present political system in the US and their attitudes regarding the poor along with the immense separation between the two classes that continues to grow (GWB). I believe that there should be a Universal Unity that could overcome the oppression felt by the majority from the rich and powerful. However, you have made a choice and are free to do so.

Good Luck in your future.