“Israel has no “city square” in which to protest. There are plenty of reasons to take to the streets but you won’t see Tahrir or maidan happening here in Israel.”
— An op-ed on the lack of a prominent public space in Israel to protest
— An op-ed on the lack of a prominent public space in Israel to protest
Squares are famously potent political theatres. This year is a second showing for Ukraine’s revolution, and a third for Egypt’s. Western TV viewers have cheered them all on. We thrill to see young people hurling rocks at power. Fire, smoke, bloodstained flags, broken heads, water, gas and sinister paramilitaries are Les Misérables for slow learners. We can sit with a front seat in the auditorium of history. It beats polling booths any day.
The lesson of Egypt for Ukraine is that defiant crowds may destroy an old regime – but they seldom build a new one.
Tahrir and Maidan squares thus join Istanbul’s Taksim, Tehran’s Azadi, Beijing’s Tiananmen, Prague’s Wenceslaus, Athens’s Syntagma, London’s Trafalgar and a dozen other urban spaces the world over as icons of modern revolutionary politics. Their furniture is the barricade, their tipple the Molotov cocktail, their tonic the tear gas canister. They gather people in their thousands to sacred forums and invite the world to witness the latest trial of strength with a supposedly oppressive regime. Sometimes they even win.
"I would like to ask: does anyone know the opening times of the Kasr el-Eini crossing?" Hanan Hagag, a journalist, quipped on her Facebook page, likening the barrier to Egypt’s heavily guarded border crossing with the Gaza Strip.
The sentiment points to the turmoil still facing Egypt. Street protests that often turn violent and militant attacks have become commonplace since Mursi was removed after mass protests against his rule in Tahrir and elsewhere.
While other arteries into Tahrir are generally open to traffic, security forces do close them off from time to time using barbed wire coils, typically ahead of anticipated protests.
But because of its look of permanence, the imposing metal gate across Kasr el-Eini is especially offensive to democracy advocates in the Arab world’s largest country.
The Kasr el-Eini entrance is the nearest on Tahrir to public buildings including parliament and government offices.
“They were talking about turning Tahrir into a museum, a place of celebration,” said Khaled Dawoud, spokesman for the liberal Dustour Party. “Instead they are installing these ugly iron gates and trying to prevent and ban demonstrations in Tahrir Square itself.”
Ruweida Omar, a rights activist, said: “We had hope that one day the concrete barriers would be removed. The iron barricade has taken away that hope. When I saw the gate, I really thought that we were living under siege.”
I grew up as a teenager in Alexandria, back in the 1960s. My favorite place there was next to a small mosque named after Al Qaed Ibrahim Square by the beach, where we used to relax in the serenity of the cool sea breeze, listening to stories and dreaming of what could be as teenagers often do. I left more than 40 years ago. By those very same marble steps today is a battleground I never imagined the city would have to witness. […]
The stakes are getting higher by the day if not the hour. More than 100 lives have already been claimed in the last week or so. The Tahrir Square phenomenon, the Arab Spring, hailed as a prosperous new era for the people of the Middle East and North Africa, appears to be heading for an ugly finale. […]
The world desperately needs a democratic Egypt to transpire to act as a marker for the Arab world. The loss of life in Syria and stalled transition in Yemen, amid more turmoil in Tunisia and Libya, has only cemented this fact. What message does the international community send to the region if it allows Egypt to descend into another army dictatorship with our tacit blessing, and more than $1.3 billion in US military aid used to suppress a section of society? The dream of the Arab Spring where ideas and voices counted for more than the might of the gun is on the verge of collapsing.
And regardless of the debate over whether this was a military coup or not, the truth is that it happened against a backdrop of a major public movement, and Morsi alone was able to spare the political scene from direct intervention by the army by calling for a referendum or elections, yet he, as previously mentioned, decided not to do so.
And as for the Brotherhood leaders, it’s either they realise the impossibility of his return or not, and if the latter, then they, along with their base, should re-evaluate the situation and face the facts, rather than pushing for a path that only leads to blood and does not yield any gains so spilled blood is stripped of its value.
The blood of the slain will, in that case, be on the hands of those who preferred action over thought, the quest over consciousness, and movement over awareness. And if they do realise that it is a dead end, then they need to be frank with their human bases about it, because it does not show integrity to push them towards, God forbid, bloodshed without being aware of the reason behind it.
If this escalation was meant to improve the conditions of negotiations between the Brotherhood and their opponents -which is the most likely scenario in my view- then that should be clarified, along with the object of negotiations, and whether it is related to shielding particular individuals from being questioned by law, or securing the political scene, or securing the presence of the Brotherhood.
And it is not right to push people towards death by convincing them that they do so in defence of religion or the Islamist project; the point is that what we are experiencing is a purely political struggle. For during the year he was in power, Morsi could not have been accused or was not caught in the act of issuing any law or producing any policy that could be described as Islamic (and what is meant by Islamic here is what sharia specifically commanded or forbade, not what enters the real of the permissible.)
What was proven was that the licences of nightclubs were extended by three hours, and relations with the US were strengthened, and the Israeli embassy held its status quo, and therefore, what drove people to the streets was not Morsi’s Islamism, which would have rendered defending him a way of defending Islamism, but rather his mismanagement. All the factors that his supporters will claim to be a conspiracy (the ministry of interior, the army, the media, the lack of bureaucratic cooperation, etc.) fall under this category, and he is responsible for it.
Countless people had advised him to deal with the situation, yet he did not respond, and his backers said that he knew what he was doing, and accused those who asked him to do so of a lack of wisdom. This is not a time to reproach anyone, and gloating shows bad manners, so it is not necessary to dig deeper into this point.
There is nothing more dangerous to this country than to slip into violence and bloodshed and civil war, and to stop that is the responsibility of everyone. I hope it is not too late now, and that “reconciliation” is not a prerequisite for putting an end to bloodshed, for it is impossible.
Our differences will endure, and in fact, political struggles will increase, yet we must ensure that it does not lead to civil war, and that is first and foremost through taking a firm stand against incitement of violence.
Published about 10 days ago and still rings true.
Links to live streams included.
An instant reaction to the Egypt election results in Tahrir Square from New York Times’ Robert Mackey. Man speaking in the video is Bassem Sabry.