bolekaja

Egypt: “We have your best interests at heart”

In The Politics of Politics on March 27, 2011 at 8:07 am

Reports from the Egyptian Uprising

The streets are emptied, it would seem. After last night, mostly-Coptic Christian protestors in front of the TV Building in Maspero Square demonstrating against sectarianism and unfair treatment of Copts have cleared out. Some of their demands were indeed met, and it appears that the Army High Council met with several representatives of the Church and protests who agreed to disband the sit-in. However, others wanted to stay and many who expressed this intent were beaten by military police and forced to leave (reportedly over 200). Rumors circulating about this say that the Army wanted the protestors out before Hillary Clinton’s visit to Egypt, among other things.

With the Maspero sit in rather unceremoniously over, the Army has won a bloody victory in its efforts to quiet the country down, pretend the revolution is over and pave the way for what limited reforms it plans to dole out. And while some labor and student protests remain (despite similar attempts to break them up with force), for now at least the more holistic, civil protests have been quashed. This blog has discussed before not only the nastiness of the Egyptian Army’s true colors, but also the means by which established political forces have consistently attempted to turn this revolution into a question of piecemeal and meager political reform.  Clearing the streets of protests, by force more often than by acquiescence of the protestors, is a continuation of this tactic, as the army knows well that people in the streets, participating freely and directly in democracy and political life, will not make the sort of compromises to half measures or quiet quietly accept empty promises.

Generally, as well, it has been as disheartening as it has been bewildering to see politics, having exploded into its full potential in Tahrir, slowly cornered and dragged back into the garishly-appointed drawing rooms of Old Egypt, complete with that ridiculous gold-leafed French Imperial reproduction furniture that every Egyptian knows all too well. Outside of the “Coalition of the Youth of the January 25th Revolution” a group largely around to provide legitimacy for meetings it would seem, Egyptian politics is quickly falling exactly into the old patterns. What I mean by this is not even a commentary on the types of issues being contemplated or the progress made on the revolution’s demands (which are another contested issue, to be sure), but more subtly and perhaps more troublingly, we have moved back from street politics to drawing room reform, as the appointed old men discuss what they plan to give us.

Once again we find ourselves stuck in the position of reacting to the middling, managerial proposals and policies of what is ultimately the exact same patronizing political class of old. One of the biggest issues here is that their halfhearted dilutions of the revolutions aims, when augmented by drummed-up hysteria and paranoid urgency in the media, actually manage to garner some support, causing rifts and entrenching their own consolidation of power. The coming referendum on the constitutional amendments, discussed in the previous post, is a fine example of this; where before the question of a new constitution seemed necessary, the offering of a supposed quick fix to the existing document now finds a measure of buy-in.

Besides the fact that these amendments are no way forward (even many of the supporters of the referendum only agree with it in the hope that it would speed transition to civilian government, not for its content), it is ultimately sad insofar as it is limiting the options of the Egyptian people to a menu of choices put forward by the army and a limited set in the political establishment. This false constriction of options and false dichotomy that it creates—either yes to the referendum or extend the uncertainty of the transition—is itself a betrayal of the spirit and content of this revolution. People did not willingly risk and give their lives in this revolution simply for the ability to vote on what compromises they would have to make, they did these things that they could craft their own destinies outside of the feeble interpretations of these “wise men”.

Having people in the streets, occupying, camping and demonstrating, was a perpetual reminder to the Egyptian people of the possibility of the impossible, of their right to frame their demands not in terms of what the army or a group of wizened politicians might propose or agree to, but to the full extent of their collective imaginations. The downfall of Mubarak was not brought about through negotiation, the exposure of the brutality of State Security did not happen through deliberation, the rebuilding of destroyed Churches did not happen through the benevolence of the army, and the formation of an independent trade union federation was not an enlightened initiative of the state. All of these actions, and all the goals and real changes brought about to date by the revolution have been deeply connected to an immanent, immediate politics of the street whereby ordinary people remade the world in the image of their hearts’ desires.

UPDATE: Protestors reassembling in front of Maspero Square have been once again beaten by army and military police, stun batons have been used, and protestors including women have been taken into the TV building with reports of more abuse within. Same shit from the army, different day.

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