Egypt: Wishin’ and hopin’

Mondoweiss has been a great source of information about the historic events of the past week in Egypt, with a wide range of contributors offering  frequent posts that paint the scene about as well as any single Web site/blog/whatever. When Mondoweiss was down on Saturday morning, I really felt a small twinge of panic, as though I had been cut off from something essential.

Today Philip Weiss posted The Egyptian Revolution Is Coming to the USA, which puts into words quite nicely all that anyone dares to hope will come of the protests. Here is a large chunk of it.

When Egypt is liberated, the Egyptian government will insist that what is happening in Gaza is one of the most unspeakable episodes of recent history: 1.5 million people live in a prison, all aspiration is snuffed out by an occupying power, children are shot as they scrounge for scrap metal. This horror will stain American and Jewish history books; and we will look back on Brian Baird and Keith Ellison’s calls for a Berlin airlift to help those people as heroic.

The democratic movement in Egypt exposes the 3 vicious truths of the pax Americana in the Middle East. As Steve Walt states so clearly, it has been based on 1, dictatorship, 2, indifference to Palestinian suffering, and 3, unconditional support for a rightwing, racist occupying Israel.

A pax Americana based on such principles is not good for the U.S. or anyone else, but here too the people of Egypt are leading us. I think it was Wolf Blitzer yesterday who expressed fears about the anti-American feeling in the crowd then showed a poster done in glitter saying “US We Hate Your Hypocrisy.” Well I don’t think that’s anti-American. It’s constructive criticism. The goddanged sign was in English and in sequins. And our hypocrisy? We have stood by a dictator for years, as even Ed Henry of CNN acknowledged a day back. And two years ago, nearly 400 children were wantonly slaughtered in Gaza, and Mr. Change President said nothing.

… The young protesters in Egypt often sound like a human potential movement, and they are unleashing American potential: long-suppressed diversity in our political culture. Day by day the cable networks have more Arab and Arab-American pundits speaking. The other day in the LA Times Saree Makdisi called the P.A. collaborators with colonialists.

By listening at last to the deep understanding that Arabs have developed of these issues over 50 years, Americans cannot help but come to respect Arabs, as we did black leaders and Jewish leaders, and we will even be led by them. It can’t be long before Al Jazeera is at last broadcast in the U.S.

Americans must be as willing to dream as the people in Tahrir Square. We must dare to step outside our old understandings and our old fears.

I wish for all of this as much as anyone, though I have always intensely disliked seeing the word “dream” in the same sentence as “American”. I confess to being inspired and filled with hope (another word that just leads to heartache) while watching her and her and this  guy.

Still, I feel strangely compelled to lend my Eyore-ish perspective on things.

Egypt is still a very poor country, food inflation is not going away, and the United States and Israel have a lot invested in minimizing the effects of this surprising deviation from the script they have written.

For things to play out in the manner Weiss describes would require the Mubarak regime’s submission to the popular will (OK, that’s probably going to happen regardless), and the American and Israeli government’s submission as well. I suspect all three players have a card or two up their sleeves.

In spite of the seeming equanimity in the face of changes they cannot control, neither Washington nor Tel Aviv is going to stop manipulating the situation, by means soft and hard. The world’s eyes are focused intently on their actions and attitudes, but that has not been much of a deterrent in recent years.

An analogy to the animal kingdom suggests itself. To expect a regime that rules by manipulation and force to accept the New Egypt envisioned by the protesters is like expecting a viper to shed its scales and grow a coat of pink cashmere, and for its venom to turn to a magical healing elixir. You might as well hope for Mubarak, Obama and Netanyahu to start farting rainbows and ice cream.

Me, I’m hoping the crowds of protesters will not return to their homes until they’ve gotten what is clearly a baseline demand: the resignation of Mubarak. I pray (or would, if I did) they all get home safely. But their real struggle is only now beginning.

Egypt: The revolution will not be Twitterized

A plainclothes policeman runs to attack a foreign journalist as others beat a protester during a demonstration in Cairo. (Photo: Reuters via the New York Post)


Or, um, tweeted. But y’know trying to play off that Gil Scott-Heron classic…..

Anyway. Enough, already, with the social media self-congratulations.

It ain’t about Facebook, and it ain’t about Twitter. It’s not an app that makes someone jump into a phalanx of armed, shielded riot cops, or to deal with the thug in the picture above.

Indian filmmaker Parvez Sharma’s post on Mondoweiss makes the point well:

[T]his “revolution” is not about social networking and its success. The majority of the 80 million people of Egypt live in abject poverty. They do not even have cell-phones let alone smartphones like the iPhone or the Droid. They go to kiosks to make calls. A pretty substantial number of them have NEVER used the internet and do not have email accounts: the complicated mechanisms of self-promotion and information gathering and sharing on social networks is not a part of their lives—they have never had the money or the resources to get access to this other world which often lives in the relatively more affluent neighborhoods like Zamalek or Garden City or Mohandaseen—all within some walking distance of where the dissent started in Tahrir Square.

The majority of the protesters in Cairo, in Suez, in Alexandria, in Luxor, in Mahla, in Manoura and all over this ancient land which is the very heart of what it means to be Arab—are not “twittering” or “facebooking” or “emailing”  or even watching the landmark live coverage that Al-Jazeera is providing. They are out on the streets—and yes, without phone access—risking their lives and giving vent to three decades and perhaps more, of anger.

Note: At the moment that link seems not to be working. Mondoweiss is down. I actually linked from this cached page.

UPDATE:  Sharma is unable to post on Mondoweiss, still down as I type (12:30 ET), so he has offered this update on Brian Whitaker’s blog:

My friend Fouad was able to get on the landline again. His body and soul are still bruised and yet he has never been more hopeful. His severe anger at Hosni Mubarak’s speech full of lies and his ambivalence about the appointment of Omar Soliman, the head of intelligence as the new vice president.

It a fragmented conversation on a still functioning landline. And as bullets do rain all around him, here are his bullet points. The thoughts and experiences of an ordinary citizen, not a reporter.

  • Mohandaseen is burning—we are surrounded by looters, and the army is just watching
  • They are looting houses and we have no idea who these looters are
  • My parents asked army tank guys and they said we cannot intervene!
  • Everyone here is saying that Mubarak is being spiteful-he wants looters so that he can say: “Look, I gave you calm for 30 years.
    OK now you want to get rid of me? Well see the chaos my going can bring. Enjoy the unrest and the looting. Only I could have protected all of you!”
  • I was driving and 3 men with knives attacked me near Sudan street—I had to sort of run them over
  • Big rumor that Mubarak is releasing prisoners and arming them so that they can infiltrate neighbourhoods and loot them
    Maadi, Street number nine-huge vandalism happening—There is looting everywhere in Rihab city, in Mohandasin, in Shubra. In Heliopolis there are plainsclothes police
  • My parents are organizing all the baobabs in our street and making blockades to stop the looters
  • There are Balkageyah (thugs) everywhere—all rich neighborhoods are being attacked
  • I think he is fucked up yaani–He didnt resign—his speech instigated the violence—now looters and the poor think that when you know there is no hope you might as well get as much as you can as long as the chaos lasts–people were hopeful that he would go
  • Maybe in other governates — people are more organized and closer to each other as community members … so they will organize better, perhaps — In Cairo it is difficult to control the chaos and disorder—there are 19 million people in this city who often don’t talk to each other and are so separated by class and money — I am wondering how they can organize together?
  • The people in Cairo are fighting two things–they are fighting police forces but also now fighting looters
  • People prayed the Salat ul Genaza, the funeral prayer after the evening prayers in Tahrir—we carried a body through the crush of thousands—I was crying, so many of us were crying
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