The revolution continues in local politics
As I’m getting prepared to get back to Egypt in two weeks, I find myself late for the revolution again. This time it’s a revolution of local politics in a small town in the Nile Delta. Yesterday afternoon got I a text message from B telling that he is in a sit-in demonstration (a technique of protest that has characterised the revolution in Egypt, Tahrir Square being the biggest and most spectacular application of it) at the city hall of Motobis in northern Egypt. I called him, and at first I only heard the loud shouts: “mish hanimshi, huwa yimshi!” (We won’t go until he goes) - the same slogan of the demonstrations to remove Mubarak, that now is the slogan of all the local movements to remove corrupt and authoritarian managements and local politicians. B. told that he and many of our shared friends were at the city hall demanding the mayor to step down.
What happened was this. Two days earlier inhabitants of the village had started a campaign to collect all the garbage that covered the alleys of the village in a big collective effort. Cleaning up the village follows the example of the spontaneous cleaning up during the demonstrations at Tahrir square, as well as the cleanup campaign initiated in Cairo and the big cities after Mubarak stepped down. Now the same technique of collective action was taken to the village level. Some political activists have been a little suspicious about these cleanup campaigns, seeing them as just cosmetic action that potentially distracts attention by making people feel good without changing anything. But I think that cleaning up actually carries a genuine and important revolutionary momentum. It is related to that sentiment so many people told me in Egypt on my last visit: “If Mubarak goes, I can finally feel that this is my country.” Cleaning up one’s street and village is a powerful way to make the place one’s own, it is a case in point of the power of action to shape expectations.
And at least in the case of this village, the cleanup certainly didn’t mean that people would stop thinking about political institutions. Yesterday, the people who had been active in the village cleanup campaign - most of them students, teachers, doctors and other rural middle class - went to the town of Motobis, administrative centre of the district, to discuss with the mayor their concerns and demands that had to do with maintenance of the streets, public utilities, and the black market trade and unfair distribution of state-subsidised bread. The mayor (who is not elected by the inhabitants but appointed by the government) strictly refused to talk to them, saying “You think you can do here what they did in Cairo, no way!” In reaction, the people organised a sit-in in front of the town hall, demanding improvements in local administration, and calling for the resignation of the mayor. The standoff continues as I’m writing this.
In Motobis, the revolution has reached the countryside. What began with the head of the state, now continues on the level of local politics, where it is most urgently needed indeed.
A newspaper report in Arabic about the events can be read here: