Thursday 24 November 2011

Revolution as a way of life

Today afternoon, Daniela and I decided to enjoy some normality. There is plenty of it, life going on as normal in the rest of Cairo while protests continue in Tahrir Square. We walked through the districts of Sayyida Zaynab and Abdin, met on the way Sheikh N. who was recovering from a serious dose of tear gas in the middle of Tahrir when it was covered in teargas on Tuesday, which hospitalised him for two days. He is full of optimism about a new civilian government of national salvation that will take over from the military, and does not expect the elections to go through. But walking from Sayyida over Abdin to Bab al-Louq, not only did we find life entirely normal, but also the Muslim Brotherhood doing very active election campaigning. It looks like they are going to win this one. The ongoing protests add a complex layer to the events but are unlikely to change the likely election victory of the Brotherhood.

We walked down Tahrir street through the area that until yesterday was right behind the frontline of the protesters, but now calm ever since a successful truce was negotiated and enforced. Now the army stands in Muhammad Mahmoud Street, trying to enforce an impression of the army protecting the citizens and directing the blame to the police and the Ministry of Interior (which, of course, is acting under orders from the Military Council, but right now the military is busy trying to appear as a constructive and protective power). On Falaki Street that had been straight behind the lines of the protesters for several days, some shops were open again, and at a coffee roastery where we got a pack of fresh coffee, the people told that this was the first day when they were open in the evening, and that during the clashes with the police they had been open but had to close around 2 p.m. because of teargas. At the entrance of Falaki Street at Falaki Square, a committee of local residents were blocking the street and politely asking people to continue to the square but not to enter their street.

At Tahrir Square, the atmosphere has changed a lot since Monday when the mood was more one of anger and resistance, with chants against the military to be heard all over the place. Now it was more of a mixture of a youthful celebration with firecrackers on the side streets, and of countless political discussions about the elections and the shape of a civilian government with full powers that the protesters are demanding to replace the Military Council. There were also many discussions about who was to blame for the violence against the protesters. Those who had lived through it were arguing to new-comers that even if it was the police firing at the protesters, it was the Military Council that was to be held responsible.

The Military Council, after failing to suppress the protests with force, has resorted to a tactics of appeasing the protests, trying to show itself again as the protector of the people (it is amazing how many people still are willing to buy this story after all that has happened) and putting the blame on the police and the Ministry of Interior. It is likely that the Kamal al-Ganzuri who served as prime Minister under Mubarak but had to leave office become he was becoming too popular was will be named the new prime minister, and all in all the army is clearly intent at appeasing the protests without making any serious concessions. The numbers of protesters tomorrow, and the degree to which the protesters will be united or disunited about their opposition to the Military Council, may be decisive about whether the Military Council can go ahead as they are trying to or whether they will be compelled to further concessions. In any case, they seem absolutely determined to go ahead with the elections as planned, and they have the determined support of the Muslim Brotherhood which has every reason to expect an election victory. Almost all other political groups have turned to support the protests, most lately Egypt’s third most important Islamist group al-Gama‘a al-Islamiya. Tomorrow, there will be big protests, but the tactics of appeasement by the Military Council will have make them less sharp in anger, determination and unity than the demonstrations on Tuesday were.

My guess is that these protests will not change the course of the elections, nor will they have a major effect on their outcome. On the short term, they will force the Military Council to some concessions, but in all likelihood the elections will go through, an uneasy alliance of the Muslim Brothers and the army will be ruling the country. But on the longer term, these protests show that they are going to face ongoing and wide-scale resistance. A big part of Egyptians have grown used to a state of revolution, so much that after less than a year after 25 January it is hard to imagine Egypt without the condition of uproar and uprising. There are many who complain about chaos, but also many who rather enjoy the state of uprising; on the one hand they are angry and determined enough to risk their lives, on the other hand they have arranged themselves well enough with the state of uncertainty and uproar to give any future government of Egypt serious trouble. During the latest protests, popular districts have sent groups of youths to the square as a kind of competition in who are the bravest, a flourishing trade in snacks, food, cigarettes, and protective gear has developed around Tahrir Square, there is a makeshift bus station serving the protesters at the Egyptian Museum, and unlikely in January and February, the protests now rather neatly fit to the ongoing flow of life in the city. Revolution has become part of the way of life in this country. Egypt may not be on as smooth a path to democracy as Tunisia is, but it will also be rather resistant to any attempt to get things under control. It’s going to be a long one.

Greetings from Egypt in revolt!

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