Lately I have been hard to reach, even when I am surrounded by friends and loved ones. I don’t want to talk or think, my brain is a merry-go-round of ideas and knowledge that I wish were not there. 2 weeks ago I was noticing how everyone around me is falling apart: physically, psychologically, and emotionally. And the worst part is the helplessness you feel, knowing that you can’t offer them any real comfort or solution. We are in the shit. The Dark Days.
This is not an uplifting post. You have been warned.
My helplessness reached its peak when my friend S. came over two nights ago, and she was not alright. Fighting to release the thousands that are getting military tried over the months has been a draining crusade for her, and it only got worse the moment she got involved in trying to ensure that the death reports of those killed in Mohamed Mahmoud do not get forged, which meant she had to be at the Zeinhom morgue the night those bodies would come in, surrounded by wailing families and crying loved ones, seeing dead bodies after dead body come in, and almost getting arrested by the authorities that didn’t want her stopping the cover-up. She told me after wards that she now sees those dead bodies everywhere, and she can’t escape them. But that night, 2 nights ago, she had just come back from Tahrir, where a man , standing inches away from her, ended up getting set on fire due to an exploding Molotov cocktail. She could see the fire engulf him, the smell of burnt flesh and hair, his agonizing screams for help. She was silent. Very calm and silent. She was sitting next to me and I couldn’t reach her, and all I could do is hold her without being able to tell her that things will be alright. Because..how? How will they be alright exactly?
Cold comfort I proved to be..
I haven’t written in two months. Two months I have spent running for parliament, stopping my campaign to run around all the field hospitals in Mohamed Mahmoud and ensuring they are well supplied, to losing the election and heading to Suez to lead another one, one that I managed to “win”. The things I have seen, on the street, I do not wish on anyone. One day I will write about that experience, but not today. Today, allow me to take you into my fragmented mind a bit. I have been silent, I have been tied up by advisors over what you can and cannot say during an election. This is over. The elections, for me, are over. I am done being silent. I am now loose, and I don’t think this was the desired effect
One of the biggest mistakes of this revolution, and there are plenty to go around, was that we allowed its political aspects to overshadow the cultural and social aspects. We have unleashed a torrent of art, music and creativity, and we don’t celebrate or enjoy it, or even promote it. We have brought the people to a point where they were ready to change. To change who they are and how they act, and we ignored that and instead focused all of our energies in a mismanaged battle over the political direction of this country. We clashed with the military, and we forgot the people, and we let that small window that shows up maybe every 100 years where a nation is willing to change, to evolve, to go to waste. Even the work that was being done, it focused on teaching them their political rights, or superficial behavioral things like “don’t litter” or “don’t break traffic laws”, and nothing regarding respecting the women or the people from other faiths that share this cursed land. Wasn’t a priority back then, because in our arrogance and hubris we assumed that people will change by themselves. That they will act right, despite the fact that throughout the history of humanity, there wasn’t a single proof that people, by themselves, will act right. Sorry everyone, we were arrogant and idealistic. Forgive us.
The parliamentary elections are fraudulent. I am not saying this because I lost- I lost fair and square- but because it’s the truth. The fraud happened on the hands of the election workers and the Judges. People in my campaign were offered Ballot boxes, employees and judges in polling stations were instructing people who to vote for and giving unstamped ballots to Christians in polling stations where they are heavily present to invalidate their votes, and the Egyptian bloc has about half a ton of correct ballots- ones that showed people voting for them- found being thrown in the streets in Heliopolis, Ghamra, Shubra, Zaitoun, Alexandria, Suez and many other districts. The amount of reports of fraud and legal injunctions submitted against these elections are enough to bring it all down and have it done all over again. Hell, a simple request for a vote recount would be enough to expose the fraud, since the ballots were thrown in the street. The people, however, are not privy of this, because it all looked very functional and organized to them. This is very important, because it tells you the shape of things to come.
When you ask the average Egyptian, you will find that they didn’t have a problem per say with corruption, but rather with the fact that things were both corrupt and dysfunctional. How many times have I heard the phrase of “He could’ve stolen all he wanted, and we wouldn’t mind, had he only made the country better while he stole” regarding Mubarak? Hundreds. Well, now we will get our wish. The shape of new Egypt will not be a place that’s free of corruption, but rather more like South American countries: Corrupt, yet functional. People will do their jobs, but they will allow the same level of corruption to exist on the down low. Give us a make-over, a window-dressing, and we will be happy & impressed with the apparent improvement. We never were high maintenance people anyway. You want security? We will place a bunch of cops in the street and you will feel secure, even though they won’t do much to protect you from criminals. You want democracy? We will create a media campaign, organize polling stations, and have you stand in cues and put your ballots in the box, while vote counters can tally the votes in any way they wish, and judges can change the total at any time they choose to, and you will be none the wiser and will believe whatever results you hear. Democracy is brilliant, ain’t it?
Sorry to go back to the March 19th referendum, but there is something that was just brought to my attention: Did you notice that back then we voted yes or no, so we can elect 500 people to the parliament, who will put the rules to choose 100 people for the constitutional committee, who will be chosen by 80 different authorities/syndicates/groups alongside with the parliament, who will choose the remaining 20, so that we can write a constitution in 6 months that will be presented to the SCAF, and if approved by them, will be put into a referendum for another Yes or No vote?
God Bless Tunisia. The only time they went to vote was for the members of the constitutional committee.
There is a disconnect between the revolutionaries and the people, and that disconnect exists in regards of priorities. Our priorities are a civilian government, the end of corruption, the reform of the police, judiciary, state media and the military, while their priorities are living in peace and putting food on the table. And we ignore that, or belittle it, telling them that if they want this they should support what we want, and deriding their economic fears by telling them that things will be rough for the next 3 to 5 years, but afterwards things will get better on the long run. Newsflash, the majority of people can’t afford having it even rougher for 3 to 5 years. Hell, they can’t afford to have it rough for one more month. We tell them to vote for us for a vague guarantee and to not to sell their votes or allow someone to buy their loyalty, while their priorities are making sure there is food on the table for their families tonight. You sell them hope in the future, and someone else gives them money and food to survive the present. Who, do you think, they will side with?
In the past two months I have been both a candidate and a campaign manager, and what you see as a campaign manager is very different than what you see as a candidate, especially when you are a campaign manager in Suez. To make a long story short, in the 10 days we were there, this is what went down: We had one of our campaign workers fall victim to a hit and run “accident”, a campaign operative getting arrested by the military police at a polling station for filming the army promoting the Salafi Nour Party (with a big banner carrying the Noor Party slogan being placed on the side of an Army Truck) and his film confiscated of course, our campaign headquarters got attacked with molotov cocktails by thugs sent by a “moderate” islamist centrist party (hint: It’s not ElAdl) , the hotel we were staying in got repeatedly attacked by thugs till 3 am, with the army platoon leader protecting the Hotel informing me that if I don’t resolve the situation, he will “deal violently” with those outside and inside the hotel, the Leader of the 3rd Egyptian Army calling us looking for me, the Chief of Security for Suez doing the same thing, Lawyers and thugs working for a semi-leftist party filed police reports against us claiming we hired them and owed them money when we didn’t, and the other campaign manager finally going to deal with the situation, ends up getting arrested, and the two campaign members that were with him were left outside under the mercy of groups of thugs, and we managed by the grace of god get them all out unharmed and we escape Suez while Trucks filled with guys with guns going around Suez looking for us.
Oh, and we also sent in one of our campaign operatives dressed as a salafi into the Suez central committee for vote counting, where Army personnel assured him that they have helped the Noor Party and told him that they hooked them up with two seats, while winking.
In other news, we won a seat there.
So, why would the military be “helping” the Salafi Noor Party get votes? Well, mainly because they invented them. It was a match made possible by State-Security, who probably alerted the military of how reliable were the salafis in their previous “cooperation” to scare the living shit out of the population into submission and supporting the regime. Remember the All Saints church attack, the one that happened this New Year? Remember the documents proving that our very own State Security had arranged it to take place to force the Coptic population to support Mubarak? Yeah, it’s kind of like that. Only on a higher level. Ensuring that the Salafis have a big chunk of the parliament (one that is neither logical or feasible considering their numbers in Egypt) achieves two goals: 1) Provide a mechanism for the security apparatus to keep the Muslim Brotherhood in check if they ever thought of using religion as a weapon against SCAF (As far as the salafis are concerned, the MB are secular infidels) and 2) to really frame the choice in our (and the international community’s) heads between a “Islamist country or a military regime”, because, let’s face it, The MB are not scary enough for the general population. But the Salafis? Terrifying shit. You add to that the piece of news that the average Egyptian duty-free buying alcohol limit over night went from 4 bottles to a single bottle, and that they now have a “women only” cue in the Airport, and you have the Upper-class and Upper-middle class – alongside with the west- pissing in their pants and psychologically ready to accept military rule over Islamic one. A fake and a false choice, especially that new parliament will have no power what so ever over anything.
So why bother with the elections? Well, because this is a fight for the nation’s morale. We know that you don’t know this country, that you live in social and cultural ghettos of your own making and that if we are not competing you will end up with a 95% Islamist parliament and you will believe that this is an islamist country and 50% of you will be booking their tickets out of here tomorrow rather than living in Egyptistan. That we too need to go down and see for ourselves how things work, since this is an election without data, real media coverage, and very few people have the experience or the knowledge of the areas that you would need to win an election in a district. Here is a fun fact: about 40% of the people head to the polls not knowing who they will vote for, and are simply there because they are afraid of the 500LE fine they must pay for abstaining to vote; about another 50% go to the polls with a piece of paper that has the names & symbols of the people they will vote for, people that they don’t know, or their history or anything about them. They simply asked their friends and they told them that these are “good people to vote for”, and this is true across the board in all classes, upper and lower, uneducated and educated. And you can’t blame them really, because each district has over 100 candidates fighting over 2 seats and only 4 weeks to campaign. If you are the average new voter, there is no time to meet or evaluate or educate yourself about all of them in order to choose objectively between them. I know people that voted for me simply because I was the only candidate they met. I am not kidding.
So many times I have met people who are terrified at the electoral successes of the Islamic parties in the election, and while they acknowledge that there “must be a deal” between the SCAF and the Islamists, they sit back with a knowing smile and tell me : “But you know what? The SCAF are not stupid. They will screw the Muslim Brotherhood over. They are just waiting for the right moment and they will destroy them. You just wait and see!”
I tell them that they are disgusting for thinking this way. That they are like a raped woman who is rooting for her rapist to rape the other woman who got away so that she wouldn’t be the only raped one.
I love it when a fellow revolutionary asks me : ” I don’t understand what’s going on. Why are the Police/Military shooting and killing people and prolonging street conflicts in Mohamed Mahmoud/ ElQasr Eleiny? What do they want? What’s the big plan?”
Well, to put it simply, The Big plan is the same as the immediate plan: they want you dead. It’s not that they want to kill opposition; they want to kill the opposition, literally. This country ain’t big enough for the both of you, and they have everything to lose. And they have guns. And the media. And all the keys of power. And you want to overthrow them. How do you think they will react to that? Give you cookies?
One question that keeps nagging me for the past 10 months: Who, exactly, cut off the communications on the 28th of January?
Some people say it was the Ministry of Interior, but that’s not right, because the soldiers and officers on the street had no idea that the communication is about to get shut-off. Most of them were surprised by it as the rest of us, and using their radios was not an effective way to relay a plan or organize a police force against demonstrators. This is why they were so easily beaten. Every Police Officer I met has told me that they woke up to find the phone network down, and none of them were given a plan to begin with. If there was no plan, and no coordination, why would they shut down all communications? And if the MOI is the one that cut-off the communication, how long would it have taken them to realize that they are shooting themselves in the foot and switch it back on to save their soldiers from the epic beat down that they received? Half an hour, maximum? The communication was down for 4 days.
Who cut off the Communications? Mubarak? But the Police were his private army. They existed to serve him. How long would it have taken before he had the MOI chiefs’ informing him that cutting off the communications was getting the soldiers he needed to stop the revolution killed and beaten? How long would it have taken him to execute the order to bring it back on? Ten minutes? Why didn’t that happen?
And if both the President and the MOI both wanted the communications back on, at least the cell phones, who had the power to refuse their orders or stop them?
Who cut off the communications? And why?
I didn’t partake in the events of Mohamed Mahmoud. I was there every day, getting medical supplies and helping people, but I didn’t partake at all. And in the current battle still going on at the Egyptian Cabinet building, I didn’t even set foot on any pavement near Tahrir for the past 3 days. I didn’t go not out of fear or cowardice, but because those two events crystallize to me the real problem in the Egyptian revolution: The schism between the symbol and the cause, or rather how we are always fixated on the symbol, and not the cause itself.
For example, the case of Khaled Said was not about Khaled Said himself, it was about Police brutality and lack of accountability towards those who are paid to protect us and instead have no problem killing us. The cause was to end this, not to try the murderers of Khaled Said. But instead of focusing on that cause, we focused on the symbol, and we ignored the cause. Police killing without accountability still happens to this day, but The killers of Khaled Said received a verdict, so Justice is served. The same goes for Alaa, who wanted- through his bravery- to give the cause of stopping the military trials for civilians the push and international pressure it needed, but instead, and in spite of his intentions, ended up becoming the Symbol that everyone rallies around, ignoring the cause. All got jubilant when Alaa got transferred to a civilian court, all the while, more than 12,000 other Egyptians are still serving year-long sentences they received in military trials that took on average 15-20 minutes for the entire trial. The Symbol and the Cause.
Tahrir became an international symbol, thanks to the foreign media, and everyone believed that the regime was brought down because of the people in Tahrir, even though every revolutionary knows that the regime was brought down because the revolution was at every square in the country, not just Tahrir. But, amazingly, we also believed the Hype that the media created. We believed in the Symbol, and it became a fixture in our thinking. If there is a problem, go to Tahrir. Hell, centralize the entire revolution into Tahrir, and instead of going to every other square and concentrating our bases in the country, we demanded – like the chauvinist Cairiens that we are- for them to come to us. That as long as we have many numbers in Tahrir, we will get somewhere, we will bring down the regime.
But here is the truth: Tahrir is not a magical land, one which if we occupy we can hold all the magical keys of our kingdom and bring down the evil regime of whomever is in Power. Tahrir is a square. A piece of land. A symbol, but a piece of land nonetheless. And just because it worked before, it doesn’t mean it will work again. We are like an old married couple trying to recapture the magic of their early days by going to the same place they went to on their honeymoon, or dance to the same song they fell in love to, and discovering that it’s not working because there are real problems that need to be resolved. Symbols are nice, but they don’t solve anything.
And this is why I didn’t get involved: I couldn’t understand the Battle for Mohamed Mahmoud, because it’s a battle to hold on to a street of no actual significance or importance, and yet some of the best youth this country had to offer died or lost their eyes or were seriously injured protecting it. The same thing goes for the current battle. What is the purpose? What is the end Goal? A battle for the sake of battle? Just like maintaining a sit-in for the sake of maintaining the sit-in, even though a sit-in is supposed to be a means to an end, not an end in itself? I mean, I would understand if the aim was to occupy Maspiro or something, but they are not even attempting that. They are maintaining a fight in the street, because they got attacked at that street, so the street immediately becomes a symbol and we must fight back and not be driven away even as we get beaten and killed. Because it’s all about the Symbol, and not about the cause or the goal, and people are dying.
It’s like reading Bad Poetry….Now what?
There is no solution. It’s the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object. There must be a way out, but I can’t seem to find one without more blood getting spilled. There is no panacea here, no exit strategy. Just helplessness, and waiting for whatever it is that will happen next, even though we can rest assured it won’t be good news. I am sorry that I cannot comfort you, but maybe, just maybe, this is not the time to be comforted.