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 (www.organizersforum.org), 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.

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Leaving Cairo

quarried edges of Great Pyramid at Giza
quarried edges of Great Pyramid at Giza

Cairo Sorting out the experience as I pack to leave Cairo, I find my thoughts something of a jumble.

The trip was amazing for all of us.  One of the Organizers’ Forum delegation pointed out to me for example how amazing it was to him that in the evaluation no one mentioned the Pyramids or the Sphinx.  The meetings, the information, the culture, and mainly the revolution had filled our brains to brimming, so the sites that normally wow the first time visitors were pushed far down the list.  Nonetheless, the Pyramids in fact are amazing, no matter how jaded the traveler.  They are larger than you imagine.  They are now pressed into the city’s suburb, and surprise when first sighted looming over the apartment high rises of Giza.  The Sphinx seems small in comparison, a makeshift artistic adaptation of a huge hunk of limestone that happened to be nearby.  The Pyramids are all raggedy and roughed up with the facing long ago expropriated in earlier centuries for building materials in a repurposing of a proximate quarry that happened to be a Pharaoh’s tomb.

T

cairo's modern metro
cairo's modern metro

he Egyptian economy has been wracked by the revolution.  The concerns about security and traveling have panicked tourists.  Estimates from seasoned observers as well as the man-on-the-street told us the numbers were down 80 to 90% of normal.  Since we had ignored all advice and plowed forward we were rewarded with easy access and nonexistent lines everywhere we went.  The guidebooks warned of multiple lines and hours delay in the famous Egyptian Museum, which feels like entering a dusty tomb itself, but my visit on a Sunday morning saw no lines and an easy walkabout.  Despite the bad rap I had heard everywhere about the chaos and disorganization of the museum, I found it easy to follow.  Just turn left and follow the signs through the time periods on the wall.  The 20 foot mummy of a crocodile was wild.  The cats were creepy.

 big fists in front of Egyptian Museum
big fists in front of Egyptian Museum

Speaking of cats, that’s what you see on the streets.  I cannot think of a place where I have not seen loose dogs before dawn, but dogs were so rare, I would find myself double taking when I saw one.

Marian Fadel, the Solidarity Center program officer, who was so helpful to us, mentioned to me at one point that her husband was from New York City, and would often say that New York was bluffing when it claimed to be a 24-hour city, because compared to Cairo, they rolled the sidewalks up early there.  A breeze seem to come in off the Nile at sunset, and the streets thickened with traffic and sidewalks swarmed with people.  Sidewalk cafes were crowed with people smoking hookas and talking.  In a society where drinking is forbidden by religion and forced in doors and women are to say the least, not invisible, but outnumbered in the night and definitely not front and center, smoking seems to be the vice of choice and clouds all conversations and any space where they occur.  Cafes serving small, sweet, thick cups of Turkish coffee fuel the hours late into the night.  In the Cafe Riche Mehrdad Azemun, one of our crew, turned over the grounds in my cup to tell my fortune, and the waiter picked up the job.   “Seems my daughter is getting married in a couple of months.  Boy, will she be shocked to hear the news!”  The streets are hardly clearing when the first loudspeakers give the call to early call to prayer around 430 AM, punctuated by many other opportunities to pray which also break the day in what becomes a reassuring and centering way marking time and space in Cairo.

Looking over the Nile the river surprises less than the haze that seems to suck at the air around us

fountain in new park built by Aga Kahn
fountain in new park built by Aga Kahn

everywhere.  Mark Landsman, a graduate student at the American University here, and an old friend of my daughter, told me were were lucky to have been here in this season.  The fall that is coming is accompanied by terrible pollution as rice husks are burned in the countryside, browning the haze and unbroken even in the rain.  I don’t miss that.

Despite having been in Amman, Jordan, my time in Cairo seemed more like a new and deeper cultural experience similar to a first time in India or China, partially because Cairo is bigger, bolder, and all over the streets everywhere, while Amman is more a city wrapped around hills that hides the deeper culture.  We had hardly scratched the surface, leaving us all standing ready to return at the first call or flimsiest excuse.

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