The Square and January 25th’s 3rd Anniversary

Today is the third anniversary of the January 25th Uprising, the day that shall “live in infamy” in Egyptian and world collective memory. The past three years have been rough for Egypt, but the situation has devolved into a confusing shift of battle lines and allegiances: I can’t help but feel that Egypt is going down faster than a tomb being covered in a sandstorm, and worse, that there is no one to dig it out in the present climate.

“You can’t force democracy on people who don’t want it,” a friend of mine said, referring to Egypt’s inability to establish a democratic government that isn’t overtaken by a narrow-minded, greedy political party (aka the Muslim Brotherhood) or the military. I pondered for a while on this comment, wondering if there was any truth to it: do Egyptians want democracy? Can they handle a truly democratic government, where everyone is equal, where all people are represented, where the military and police have limited power in politics?

Ahmed from “Al-Midan”, sourced from Film Forum.org (where I viewed the film) http://www.filmforum.org/movies/more/the_square1

The hardened pessimist in me says that they don’t want democracy. I don’t understand how women can support the MB, Salafists or any other conservative party that treats them differently then men; I don’t understand how Egyptians voted for a president (Mohammed Morsi) who clearly had no intention of celebrating Egypt’s diversity (that is, the Coptic Christians). I don’t understand why protesters, after three years, have not learned to protest peacefully. During the initial uprising the protests were peaceful, but that has become a thing of the past.

Yet the ever-hopeful optimist in me believes, ultimately, that the majority of Egyptians want democracy. The problem is that they don’t know what democracy looks like, or how to establish it. The military has long been a powerful presence in Egypt, and although the January 25th Uprising was a protest against the military/police state and corruption, the military has managed to get back into society’s good graces. Quite literally, I believe that this coup has happened for two reasons: one, they have money and are obviously organized, with an efficient chain of command; and two, they have weapons.

Al-Midan (The Square), Jehane Noujaim’s amazing documentary film, has been nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Film at the 2014 Academy Awards. I was lucky to see this limited-release film at an indie theatre here in New York back in the fall; the film, which followed Egyptians of different backgrounds and beliefs over the course of the Revolution, was excellent. However, it raised the very important question that I just mentioned above: why do the Egyptians now support the military, when the military was the cause for their protesting in the first place?

Why do they support them when the army and police were responsible for firing on protesters, for countless deaths throughout these past three years? I can perhaps agree with the military’s recent actions against the MB, who were violently protesting and attacking the police; but the video footage of military tanks running over bystanders in the film and the disfigured bodies left me cold. Now General Al-Sisi, head of the military, is being considered a possible candidate for presidency, with his face appearing plastered on chocolates in one woman’s candy shop. I’m actually surprised that eating bonbons with his face on them hasn’t been considered an insult yet…

Khalid Abdalla and Ahmed, sourced from THe Film Stage.com http://thefilmstage.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/TheSquareElMidan-218×340.jpg

No one has learned anything during these past three years. Not the MB, which succeeded in gaining power after more than half a century of being oppressed and then blew it. Not the military, which continues to use excessive force and condemns anyone who speaks out against it. The law forbidding people from protesting couldn’t have been a more blatant slap in the face to democracy and the very nature of modern Egyptian social politics. Arresting and jailing people who criticize the military, such as comedian Bassem Youssef (actually, he managed to scrape by with heavy censoring, not jail time) brings us right back to Mubarak times. Eih dah, Egyptians, eih dah??

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The United States has not learned how to deal with Egypt either during the past three years. In fact, America-and Obama’s-response to this entire process has been disgusting and appaling. We have flip-flopped just as Egyptians have in terms of our support. Yesterday, January 24th, four bombs went off in Cairo alone, including one in front of the Security Directorate and Islamic Museum in Cairo; one in front of a movie theatre; one in front of a metro station and another on a main street. 6 people are dead and dozens injured. CNN only mentioned the Security Directorate bombing in an article on its World News page; Fox News included a tiny article on its homepage. There is scant coverage of the 3rd anniversary–perhaps “because there is nothing to celebrate about,” as one reader on the Egyptian Streets Facebook page said–but I feel this is just another example of the West’s indecisiveness…another example of our inability to provide support and guidance to Egypt.

At least 12 people have died across Egypt today; a  bomb went off at the Central Security Forces training camp in Suez; and 4 Egyptian embassy staff have been kidnapped in Libya. Has this news reached Western media? Hardly–but when American ambassadors were killed in the Libyan Benghazi bombing, it was world news. What is happening in Egypt is very important, because Egypt long set an example for the rest of the Arab world. The bombings are, as the NY Times said, reminiscent of Baghdad…or Syria, or Lebanon (which itself is being rocked daily) or Afghanistan.

The fact that the perpetrators of the recent bombings were not the Muslim Brotherhood but a militant Al-Qaeda-inspired group named Ansar Beit al-Maqdis (Champions of Jerusalem) that has been plaguing the Sinai for some time now, is particularly important. Ansar Beit al-Maqdis is truly a terrorist organization. Al-Qaeda is growing stronger, as events in Iraq and Yemen have proved; the instability in Libya is certainly testament to this. It seems that America’s War on Terror has failed. I doubt America will try to fight Al-Qaeda again, which means that it is up to the citizens of these countries to decide what they believe and to decide their fates.

….Change would come to Iran through an alliance of the progressive religious and secular forces, and that there would be no real political transformation without participation of both of these forces now.” (p. 270)  Azar Nafisi, Things I’ve Been Silent About

The above quote by acclaimed writer Azar Nafisi describes not only the political situation in Iran, but also the future of Egyptian politics. There can be no positive change in Egypt without alliances and cooperation between all walks of Egyptians, from the original, secular Jan 25th protesters to the Muslim Brotherhood supporters to the Christians, women and conservatives, not to mention the Egyptian military and police.

Al-Midan highlighted the friendship of MB supporter Magdy who continued to support Ahmed, an original Jan 25th protester. With Egyptians sharply divided against each other and unwilling to calmly debate (if the Egyptian Streets post comments are any indication), cooperation seems near impossible; any suggestion of it seems treacherous. But this is the message that must be heard.

S-L-M

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