Our Dickensian Revolution

Going back to read Charles Dickens’ masterpiece on the French revolution “A Tale of Two Cities” messes with my head, specifically due to how relevant it is to what we went through for the past 18 months, and continue to go through. All of this truly has happened before, and will happen again, and no one will learn from anything. I am leaving you with a few quotes, and as always, just let me know when it sounds familiar:

 

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way–in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

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“Monseigneur had one truly noble idea of general public business, which was, to let everything go on in its own way; of particular public business, Monseigneur had the other truly noble idea that it must all go his way–tend to his own power and pocket. Of his pleasures, general and particular, Monseigneur had the other truly noble idea, that the world was made for them. ”

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“A revolutionary tribunal in the capital, and forty or fifty thousand revolutionary committees all over the land; a law of the Suspected, which struck away all security for liberty or life, and delivered over any good and innocent person to any bad and guilty one; prisons gorged with people who had committed no offence, and could obtain no hearing; these things became the established order and nature of appointed things, and seemed to be ancient usage before they were many weeks old.”

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“The miserable bakers’ shops were beset by long files of them, patiently waiting to buy bad bread; and while they waited with stomachs faint and empty, they beguiled the time by embracing one another on the triumphs of the day, and achieving them again in gossip.”

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“What private solicitude could rear itself against the deluge of the Year One of Liberty–the deluge rising from below, not falling from above, and with the windows of Heaven shut, not opened!”

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“In seasons of pestilence, some of us will have a secret attraction to the disease– a terrible passing inclination to die of it. And all of us have like wonders hidden in our breasts, only needing circumstances to evoke them.”

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“In short,” said Sydney, “this is a desperate time, when desperate games are played for desperate stakes.”

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“Well, well,” reasoned Defarge, “but one must stop somewhere. After all, the question is still where?”

“At extermination,” said madame.

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“Then tell Wind and Fire where to stop,” returned madame; “but don’t tell me.”

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“Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seed of rapacious license and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind.”

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“I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long years to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out….


I see that child who lay upon her bosom and who bore my name, a man winning his way up in that path of life which once was mine. I see him winning it so well, that my name is made illustrious there by the light of his…

It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.”

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“I hope you care to be recalled to life?”

And the old answer:

“I can’t say.”

Morsy, the Human Being

Originally Published
in the Daily News Egypt

During the first and second round of the presidential elections I always had a problem with regarding President Mohamed Morsy as a real human being with real dreams, real fears and ambitions. I always viewed him as something unreal and virtual, a construct representing the Muslim Brotherhood. It naturally didn’t help that he was an alternate candidate, always in the shadows, or that when he got presented to us he had no real personality to begin with. I had resigned myself to view him, like many others like me, as a puppet, a front to whatever unholy alliance the SCAF and the MB were creating. However, very recently, I started to ignore my prejudices and take a closer look, especially with the fiasco surrounding the reassembling of parliament.

Please don’t misunderstand; my rethinking had nothing to do with Morsy’s decision and its aftermath. Far from it. Something else entirely caught my attention, and I am sure many other as well, as to the timing of the decision and the reversal of it, also where Morsy was at this time, especially when recanting the decision. The presidency issued the decree cancelling the former decree bringing back the parliament and apologized around 6 pm last Wednesday. Did Morsy announce this very important and politically dangerous decision, after the political firestorm his first decision caused himself? Nope, it was the presidential spokesperson who did. Mr Morsy was in fact not in the country at the time, but rather in Saudi Arabia on an official visit. The question that everyone should ask is how did that happen?

The bringing back of parliament by presidential decree, and the constitutional court decision to strike that decree down, was a momentous stand-off, and one that cornered Morsy and galvanized many sides, for and against, meaning that the decision to take back that decree had to be politically calculated by advisors (political, legal, media) with the President himself being involved in drafting it. That didn’t happen. Instead, Morsy flew to Saudi (alone mind you – with no entourage of any kind) in the morning, and the decision came out of the presidency while he was in a meeting. Who took that decision? Who drafted it? We know that the original decree was announced the next day to a Muslim Brotherhood Guidance Council meeting, which means that they were the ones that drafted it, so if the one recanting it happened while he was away, then they drafted it as well. This means that the argument that Morsy has no powers due to the supplementary constitutional declaration by SCAF is false; Morsy has no power because the Guidance Council are the ones making all the decisions for him. This is why no government has yet been announced, with Essam ElArian, who has no official capacity in Morsy’s government, announcing its developments, instead of Morsy’s office itself. Morsy, literally, is the Guidance Council’s puppet and is being used by them during their continuous negotiations with the SCAF. Do you ever wonder what that must be like?

Imagine that one day a group of people you trust and are related to come to you with the proposal: they will start a huge company that will do great things, and they need you to be its CEO. They promise you a huge salary and all the prestige in the world, while assuring you that you won’t actually have to do any of the work, but rather that everything will be taken care of by very capable people, ones that they will choose. It sounds awesome at first: all the glory, none of the work, so you accept. And then those very capable people start managing things very badly, which brings the heat on to you. People start calling you, asking you how you could take this or that stupid decision, and urging you to use your power to fix things. But you have no power, so you call those who are under you, basically begging them to stop messing things up, and that’s the extent of your power. Everyone is mad at you, for reasons that are not under your control but are happening in your name, and there is nothing you can do about it. Doesn’t sound so great now, does it? If it was you, you would quit. But Morsy can’t quit. And he is not a CEO, he is the revolution’s president, and it has only been a month. Four more years of this – imagine.

Morsy is not a construct, no matter if that is how he appears to me. Morsy is a human being. He has a family. He has children. The children have friends, are on facebook and twitter, and watching the world asking daily why their father took this decision and didn’t take that decision, and they call him to tell him what’s going on, asking that he takes a decision, and he can’t. All the prestige, none of the power, in the middle of a war aimed at you. Slowly everything seems hollow to him, and he struggles with notions of self-respect and dignity. Morsy had a cause, he went to jail for that cause, and now he is being asked to be the martyr for this cause, but without any honourable death involved. Instead, it’s a death by a thousand paper cuts. And it has only been a month.

Did you know that Morsy was not officially invited to Saudi Arabia? That the Ambassador gave him a cordial diplomatic invite simply positing that Saudi is looking forward to his probable future visit, and that Morsy jumped on the opportunity and told him that he is coming tomorrow, alone, and without an entourage of any kind? Morsy was literally escaping to Saudi and while he was there he did an Umra, during which he was pictured crying. Again, it has only been a month. How long until Morsy, the human, cracks?

I wonder…

The Message

Originally Published in the Daily News Egypt

Three days before the election results came out, upon an invitation from a musician friend, I found myself traveling to Gouna to spend those last few days away from the circus that was Cairo at the time.

So, here I was, chilling with his friends and acquaintances, many of who were a collection of Kanaba party members who decided to become Shafiqistas, and who naturally derided me- and accused me of wanting Morsy to win- for choosing to invalidate my vote (the same happened with the “revolutionary” friends who supported Morsy; Invalidation is fun!)

Besides being completely horrified at the prospect of an MB president, they truly believed, through “insider information”, that Shafiq had won, and that the SCAF are about to launch a full-throttle attack on all the Muslim Brotherhood all over Cairo and end this nightmare of Islamists in power that they have been living under for a while.

Despite my assurances that there is no way in hell the army would a) let Shafiq ever be president, b) start a mini-war with 5 million people, and that it was glaringly obvious that they are in intense negotiations with the MB, they have all ignored me due to their blind assurances that Shafiq already won.

Not only did those people become political & media analysts all of a sudden, and many of them were never moved to go any single demonstration in their lives and avoided Tahrir during the initial 18 days, upon seeing the pro- Shafiq demonstration, expressed genuine desire to go there and protest for the first time in their lives.

They went to sleep, filled with optimism and hope, and then woke up the next day to the results. That night I walked in the Marina, & it was a ghost town. Every Shafiq supporter I know stayed at home, depressed, lost and confused. I envisioned that many have heavily contemplated slitting their wrists by breaking full & chilled champagne bottles.

The following week many of them tried to explain their confusion by circulating some of the most absurd conspiracy theories to explain why the results were “changed”, anywhere from the army succumbed to the threat of terrorism by the Muslim Brotherhood, to having them succumb to judges who wouldn’t have allowed the invalidation of the “fake” Morsy votes to protect their fellow corrupt judges.

But all of this was to avoid admitting the true message of the SCAF that day: That it doesn’t matter who won or who got the most votes, in the end they are the ones who appoint the President, and they are the ones who hold all the cards. That election and campaigning and fundraising are all fun and all, but the SCAF are the ones who decide who to give the legitimacy of the ballot box to, not the voters, and that it was all up to negotiations and deals, and not the people.

That was the first part of the message, the one that many received, but the second part, for some reason, has escaped the majority of the Shafiqistas, mainly because it was simply too insulting for them to comprehend: the utter contempt that SCAF feels towards them, and how they view them as gullible and as easily manipulated as the revolutionaries, including even giving them false information and mobilising them just to use them as a negotiation tactic with the Muslim Brotherhood.

You would think it would seem obvious to the old NDP segment of the Shafiqistas, but for some reason none of them ever asked themselves, why would SCAF support them? Why would they bring them back to power, given that they are the same people that have caused this headache of a revolution for SCAF to begin with? Because the old NDP continued to support SCAF for the past year and a half and would never cross them or cause them any problems?

Please… So what? It’s not like the old NDP would stand up against the security state, given that they always wanted to stay in its favour. It wasn’t done out of love, it was loyalty based on fear and need, and one that wanted the army to engage in an internal mini-civil war and weather the ensuing global outcry so that they can keep living their lifestyle and go back to power.

Why wouldn’t SCAF despise them, use them and discard them the way they did? They know they are not going anywhere; that they know their place. And SCAF is not wrong to believe that: look at how many of them still believe that the SCAF was cornered or that they gave in, in order to save the country. It would be comical if it wasn’t so sad.

There is, however, a minority in that group that received the message in full, and for the first time in the past year and a half let go of their assured cockiness and faith in the security apparatus, and who said, for the first time in their existence, -whether muttered in secret, or out loud in private or in public- Down with Military Rule. To those I say: Welcome to the party, people. Better late than never, I suppose. I have been waiting for you, and I have a message of my own to give you.

I know that there many of you who truly love this country and who are some of its best talents and minds, and who were not happy with the direction it was taking, but you ended up being close to or entrenched in the old regime because you wanted to achieve certain things or protect your interests and there was no other way to do so.

I know that you too hated the bribes and the corruption and the torture but you didn’t believe we could do any better or change anything.

I know that you knew that what was happening was unsustainable and that the collapse was coming, but you simply wanted to extend that period of stability as much as possible and so desperately wanted to regain it afterwards. I get it, but those days are over, and it’s time for you to make your peace with that.

It’s also time for you to join up and fight for the country that you love and want to see improved, knowing that it won’t be easy and that it will take a lot of work. It’s time for you to leave your couches and defend your interests, and fight with us to turn this country into a true civil state, not one controlled by the military or the theocrats.

The old regime’s days are gone, and along with it all of the excuses. There is now a new regime that is being formed, and it’s up to you to ensure that it doesn’t mimic the old one. And if you don’t want to do this out of patriotism, do it out of self-interest: You are no longer under the protection of the old regime; you are the people now, and it’s in your best interest to ensure that the new regime doesn’t do to the people what the old one did.

The new regime is being formed as you read this, there are no guarantees and all the issues are on the table: from women’s rights, to freedom of expression and the arts, to transparency, to security. You need to ask yourself the one question: What kind of country do I want to live in?

Choose your front, whether joining a political party, fighting social battles, doing social work, creating and sponsoring cultural events, or fighting for more transparency in the government. No matter what it is, start working.

Understand that we cannot continue to function as a country with our institutions being so corrupt that they cannot be trusted to run an honest free and fair election where the results are announced instead of negotiated.

Rage against them because it’s not acceptable for any self-respecting human being to live this way, under the mercy of the institutions created to serve him, to be manipulated, terrorised or cast aside by them when they choose to.

This is not a life, this is no way to build a future, and it has to stop. We need you to help us stop it. We are either the masters of our fate and country, or we are nothing.

Choose…

Move

Originally published in the Daily News Egypt.

Why do we still live in Cairo?

I ask myself this question every day, as I , like millions of others, curse every god in heavens as I try to navigate my way through the streets of Cairo to get from one neighborhood to the other. Every morning I am filled with dread before heading out into the ever-shrinking streets of this gloriously overpopulated city, and the tweets of the #cairotraffic hashtag on my phone, filled with curses, pleas for help and the rare glimmer of hope of an not overly populated route, compound the stress and the misery. Every morning I feel as if I am about to willingly enter a psychotic mega game of bumper-cars, while only hoping that I make it to my destination not overly late and with my car intact. And every morning, as hours of my life keep passing by, I ask myself that same question: Why do we live in Cairo?

People live in cities for three reasons: Quality of Life, Financial opportunity, and socialization, and this city makes a mockery out of all of them. The quality of life, without the huge army of (car cleaning, house-cleaning, delivery of everything) slaves- and given their wages, they are no better than slaves- to supplement it, would be pitiful. Imagine if there was no delivery of anything for a second, and you had to go out, to the streets of Cairo, to get everything yourself. Horrifying, isn’t it? Socialization is also suspect, since the hostility of the city towards everyone and everything makes social outings an obligation more than a pleasure most of the time, with people staying later than any sane person would on work-days, just so that they don’t face traffic on their way home, and yet sometimes, somehow they still manage to. There really isn’t a single reason to live in this city outside financial opportunity, and with its rising costs, even that reason is becoming suspect. Everything is so expensive that we live on credit, which, if you take a look at Spain, Greece, Italy or even the US, is not a good idea long-term wise. Yet everyone stays, unless it’s to get out of the country completely, and more keep coming to this glorified mouse-trap, because all the companies are here; and the companies are here because the other companies are here. And nobody ever questions the logic of this, even though it’s very easy to.

Sure, Cairo is the business center of Egypt, but that doesn’t mean we need to be based here to do business here. In reality, other cities offer cheaper rent, cost of living, and all of the amenities that we need, and since most of us do our work via email anyway, there is literally no reason why people of capital choose to start new businesses here. The question of why not move the businesses elsewhere, while maintaining satellite/virtual offices or shared work spaces here-which would minimize the costs dramatically- is one that somehow never gets answered convincingly. We are here, because everyone else is here, and we envy and hate on anyone who manages to set-up their business elsewhere.

So, where would we move, you would ask? Well, it really depends on how far you want to remove yourself from the city victorious, but the short answer is the coasts. If you want close proximity to Cairo, Ein Sokhna, Ismaelia and Port Said are all excellent options: You are living on the beach, rent is cheap, the infrastructure is there, there is virtually no traffic, and you are one hour away by car or bus, which if you worked in advertising, marketing, training or consulting companies, is quite perfect. If you are looking for something slightly further, the North Coast is the answer: all of the aforementioned reasons, with even less people, and millions of residential units that are empty for the supreme majority of the year, and if you need a city, there is always Alexandria. Why people working in IT have not moved there yet to create their own silicon valley is beyond me. There are also the Borg elarab and Alamein airports available, for both consumer and cargo travel, awaiting people to move there to be fully operational. With a little bit of imagination and investment, the Nrothcoast could become a huge business hub. Yet no one is moving there.

As for those who are looking for a clean getaway, Sharm and Hurghada await you. They have all the things mentioned before, plus a ton of hotels, restaurants and outings. Why the Egyptian cinema industry isn’t based in the former, with production companies like Good News building studios in 6 of October instead of Sharm ElSheikh, or why the Telecom industry don’t base their main offices in Hurghada, is beyond me, even though it’s quite obvious to everyone that those cities might require a more sustainable income next to tourism, and that the cost of living and doing business there is significantly less than in Cairo.

Yes, some people have family ties and responsibilities that make it impossible to leave Cairo, but for the rest of us, there is no excuse not to get out. Down with New Cairo and 6 October compounds, for they might give us a reprieve from traffic when we get home, but any trip into the city- whether through the always crowded Mehwar or the Death trap called the ring road- becomes a crucible, and if we are going to live desert land anyway, we might as well have a beach nearby. I know that Big Corporations will probably require things like government planning and tax incentives to move elsewhere, but Small and medium enterprises don’t. So dear SME owners and people intent on opening new businesses: Do us all a favor and move. We are all waiting for our way out, and, right now, you are our only hope.

The New Elite

Originally published in the Daily News Egypt.

Two days ago, Mohamed Morsi, the FJP presidential candidate was announced the winner in Egypt’s first post- revolution presidential elections. For some this is the first real triumph of the revolution, for others it’s a depressing reality signifying how the Muslim Brotherhood- with all of their betrayals- continues to manage to be the only real winner in the Egyptian revolution so far, but for those who supported Shafiq from Egypt’s elite, it meant one thing: the party, for the time being, was over, and maybe, just maybe, it’s time for them to leave to greener pastures elsewhere.

The Elite dynamics in Egypt has very little to do in terms of personal achievement or fame (Being an international football star doesn’t make you part of the Elite for example, same as being a famous Actor, unlike what happens in other countries where Elite is connected to Celebrity), but more to do with how connected you are with the people in power and the families to which they belong, which are some thirty-odd families that have intermingled and inter-married for the past one hundred years. Those families have survived with their status intact a revolution and three presidencies, but they have always suspected that this new revolution might be what finally kicks them in. The moment Shafiq lost, their last vestige of hope to maintain their status was lost as well, and many of them seem to be very uncertain what their next move should be. But why, you may ask? What makes them capable of surviving a military socialist revolution, and not this one? What’s so different this time?

Well, given that being Elite is connected with being in power, when a new Elite comes into Power through a revolution, the old Elite have one of three options: 1) Leave the Country,2) intermarry with the new Elite and assimilate them,or 3) Stay in the country, bid your time with the risk of withering out. Those were the exact three option that faced Egypt’s Elite (back when they were part of an aristocracy) on the onset of the 1952 revolution, when the Army Officers became the new Elite. Some fled the country, some sat on the sidelines in bitterness awaiting a comeback that came for some and not for others, while others went ahead and intermarried with them to keep their social status, and assimilated them into their existing social dynamics and thus survived till this day. Unfortunately for them, that last option won’t exactly work this time, due to the very special nature of the Muslim Brotherhood and how their social circle operates.

Unlike the army officers, the MB have two things: 1) Money and 2) An already semi-closed existing social structure (with its own culture, schools, social values, dress-code, mannerisms, even wedding style), where the leading families are all intermarried. For example, our new President’s daughter is married to the son of Ahmed Fahmy, the speaker of the Shura Council, who in turn is related by Marriage to Saad El-Katatny, the speaker of the People’s Assembly, who in turn is related by Marriage to Khairat El-Shater, the MB’s de-facto leader, who is also related by marriage to a number of very powerful figures inside the Brotherhood Supreme Council. This semi-tribal structure, which exists all over the MB’s inner social classes, signifies two things: 1) We have a rising and complete new Aristocracy in town, 2) Our checks and balances system will not be carried on in public, but rather over familial dinner-table discussions, which is another dazzling Irony of the Egyptian revolution: The revolution that sought to remove Mubarak for desiring to keep power within his family through only his son, has handed over power over the country to a budding aristocracy. Brilliant, isn’t it? The more things change, the more they stay the same. Kind of.

Hence the level of panic that has pervaded through the old Elite families, and why so many of them are considering leaving the country. They don’t fear that this country will turn islamist, but rather that in the new social order, they don’t have a place anymore. Very few of them would be able to marry into this new elite, and even fewer would want to given the huge chasm in their social values, which unlike the last revolution has little to do with social class and more to do with piety and priorities, which are vastly different than their own. Revolutionaries who come from Elite backgrounds joke that the old elite are afraid of losing Tamarai or no longer being able to wear bikinis or partying in Hacienda, but the implications of this new social order are far more reaching than that and it will also affect the revolutionaries.

Take art and culture for example: How many amongst the MB Elite do you know to be Patrons of the arts? How many don’t have a problem with the current taste in music or in movies? How many painters, sculptors, singers or actors do you know that come from a Muslim Brotherhood background while adhering to their social code? How many would be willing to allow the current cultural scene to exist without trying to interfere with it or limit it in one way or another? The Muslim Brotherhood may have many virtues, but being fans of cultural diversity was never really one of them, and unlike the Army officers, their issues with it will not change with time or assimilation, as opposed to the old Elite, who may have had many short-comings and negatives, but they were very proud and supportive of the Egyptian arts and culture scene. Ask any art gallery owner how financially safe they are feeling right now, and you may get a sense of what I am talking about.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. While many of the old elite, whether pro or anti the revolution, may take flight very soon, many of them realise and intend to capitalize on the one major difference that differentiates this revolution from the one before. Power could be seized through democratic process and so they intend to stay and continue to fight this fight. There are still new parliamentary elections coming by year’s end, and thus a chance for survival, co-existence and offering competing visions over the course this country can take. Unlike the past year and a half, one should expect a surge of many of the old elite joining existing or new political parties as members, financiers or even political candidates, because they finally realise that relying on decades-old connections will no longer cut it, and that the only way for them to survive is through participation in the political process. For many of them who don’t want to leave, the Era of being a member of the Kanaba party is over.

In the meantime, it will be very interesting watching the direction that our new elite will take, and how they will confirm their new status amongst the Egyptian society elite dynamics, and whether they will try to integrate in it and its institutions or separate themselves from it. To cite the most superficial of examples, whether they will choose to buy properties in the gated communities or summer-escapes of the old elites or create their own? And on the other end of the spectrum, how will the old elite and their institutions deal with them in return? Will they acquiesce and take them in or fight and try to block them out, like they have for years? Personally, I will be observing the covers of Society magazines for the next few months, and if I see Khairat El-Shater being on the cover of Enigma magazine and his kids in their yearly “In-crowd” listings, I think we will all know which direction this fight is going.