Thanks to Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s Revolution May Succeed

            New Orleans               Once again Tahrir Square in Cairo stands for dream of freedom, rather than the disappointment of struggle.  Tens of thousands have held the square for days against scores that have died and thousands injured by the military.  Finally, the demands have been clear and consistent and directed at the brazen power play in recent months by the military (known as SCAF, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces), which has categorically proven that this is yet another institution in Egypt that cannot be trusted by the military.


Having been in Cairo several months ago with the delegation from the Organizers’ Forum (, it was impossible not to feel while we were there and in the weeks that followed the profound disappointment of so many of the activists and the increasing likelihood that the revolution’s aims might be lost even though changes would be felt for the future.  The message to the military when we were there was inchoate and spoke more to the divisiveness of the protesters in the emerging politics, than to folks with their “eyes on the grape,” as we used to say.


The push that finally began days ago in Cairo, as doubts continued to increase that the military was angling for a permanent role in running the country and being dilatory in the discussions of any real transfer of power to parliamentary and democratic rule, was led by the much maligned Muslim Brotherhood.  Organizational discipline once again trumped social networking and political jockeying for power.  The Brotherhood poured tens of thousands into the square and their commitment and discipline was deep enough to withstand the military attack and hold Tahrir Square, bringing tens of other thousands to fill the space in escalating protest and resistance.


It is now the military that is forced to blink and retreat.  With the announcement that the civilian puppet cabinet as offered to resign the military reads the writing on the wall:  they either compromise or stand the chance of being institutionally crippled in the future.  Heads will roll!  One protester quoted in the Times pointed out the final realization of the irony that the military was thanked last January for not shooting the protesters as being the same as “thanking your wife for not sleeping with other men.”  Correctly, one should have the right of a citizen to not expect your nation’s  military to shoot you.  The military seems to have forgotten this as well in these strange times.


David Kirkpatrick of the Times, who has been an  excellent source on some much of this, paints the Brotherhood  as “reeling from the swift collapse of the military’s authority” in fear of there being a delay in the elections.  This is a tactical hiccup in the face of a potential victory.  There seems little doubt that the Muslim Brotherhood has not been immeasurably strengthened in recent days.  In fact it seems clear if the revolution in fact is finally won that the protesters of all stripes will owe a huge debt of gratitude and grudging respect.


We found a consensus that in elections the Muslim Brotherhood would be big winners, but a realpolitick assessment that they were too smart not to understand the lessons of the revolution and the lack of interest of the Egyptian people in suddenly living in a rigid theocracy.  The Brotherhood is now incurring huge debts for saving the revolution, but hopefully they will not make the mistake the military made in January of ignoring how important the revolution is to all of the Egyptian people.


Cairo 2050 Plan and Egyptian Revolution Postponed

IMG_1206Cairo        The weekend in Cairo is Friday and Saturday.  On the Friday day of prayers organizers had called a rally to reignite the spirit of Tahrir Square, predicting a vast assemblage of  people with some promising that a million would be in the square.  The call had been to speed up the process and accelerate real reforms promised months earlier in the square.

These rallies kick off at midday and then usually build throughout the days, swelling after the evening prayers in the late afternoon.  After a Turkish coffee at the decadent seeming Cafe Riche founded in 1908 with its pictures of Egyptian singers and movie stars from decades past on the walls, we walked the couple of blocks to Tahrir, following a group of several hundred marching under banners ahead of us.  We circled the crowd without difficulty with its multiple stages blaring speeches in a kind of battle of the bands.  Vendors and street sellers were everywhere.  Drummond Pike walking with me told me it reminded him of something from the 60’s, sort of a mini-Peoples’ Park thing.  He captured the spirit well, friends were reuniting, fathers holding their children up for photos, conversations and cigarettes being shared everywhere.  Having traversed the entire square, we would be pushed to say there were 20,000 there, though we gamely tried to estimate 50,000 to keep a stiffer lip about it all.  The tactic had become a strategy, a rally a reunion, and clearly organizers were going to have to find other ways to sharpen the edge to reignite the pressure of the street on the system.

IMG_1200The weakness of the rally and the interesting fact that the Presidential candidates the Organizers’ Forum had met with had all been unclear whenever the question of the spring date for their election arose, has now come together more concretely.  During the week and sometimes on the same day we would be meeting with them, the seven Presidential candidates were meeting together and sometimes with representatives of the military to discuss the election and the rules.  It now seems clear that they knew something was afoot, were part of it, and were not sharing it with us.  Military governmental stand-ins had negotiated a series of agreements with representatives of the parties.  The deal crafted did not guarantee the military a place in government in the future, nor were basic rights agreed that would drive the writing of the Constitution after the parliamentary elections coming at the end of November.  In fact no firm date was set for the Presidential election, but it now seemed likely to have been postponed for up to two years until the spring of 2014, leaving the military and he existing apparatus in power in Egypt until then.  It is hard not to believe that the many people we met during the week will now believe the revolution is postponed, and worry that it may be in the process of being hijacked in the name of stability, security, and the spinning narrative elites want to present to the rest of the world.  Organizers and activists will no doubt be in intense and difficult, if not divisive, discussions now throughout Cairo and the country.

IMG_1210Some things are also worrisome where bureaucratic momentum may be more irresistible than revolutionary ardor.  I kept hearing comments about something called Cairo 2050, a long term planning process that the government’s planning agencies had rolled out in 2010.  Reading about it and talking to various planning experts, Cairo 2050 was a strange amalgamation.  At one level it tried to present itself as creating a greener and more modern city, but the parks and walking spaces would be at the price of massive relocations of informal settlements and industries to the sprawling suburbs of Cairo.  The powerful tourism industry, now reeling, would find Old Cairo and Islamic Cairo made into walking districts for example.  There had been some protest about the plan from different directions, and I was told that there were new reports being crafted that might respond to the plan.  When we visited with the zabaleen there had been a curious remark about moving their production process in the future, which seemed strange, since invariably residents would fiercely oppose living at such a distance from their work.  Now with no government fully legitimized and no clear role for citizen accountability, though it would be desperately required to turn something like this around, I would worry that it would move forward under the radar with tragically adverse impact.  Cairo 2050 itself seems to be set in the pattern of Delhi, which also has pushed recycling to the end of the metro line and rebuilt settlements at the far outreaches without substantially impacting any real change and seeing the same slums regenerated in response to the lack of jobs in the suburbs and the distant travel.

IMG_1211Our days in Cairo are numbered, but I will be worried about this revolution and its great spirit and promise for a long time as the dates continue to be pushed back on the calendar.