All is Calm, All Is Well, But the Storm May Be Nigh…كله تمام كله بالخير لكن يمكن تأتي العاصفة
If I were not in Cairo at the moment I’d by up on Cass Lake in Northern Minnesota teaching swimming, leading some canoe trips, and listening to taps:
The Day is done; gone the Sun
From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky
All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.
As evening descends, it is fitting that I attempt an analytical update on what has become a deceptively stable situation in Tahrir. Early Yesterday afternoon, the clashes along Mohammed Mahmoud St remained in a stalemate as the protestors never gathered the critical masses necessary to push Central Security Forces (CSF) of the pivotal intersection leading to the Interior Ministry. Later that afternoon, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) ordered the CSF to stand down, deployed soldiers to protect the Interior Ministry, and launched an formal inquiry to ascertain the causes of the violence scene in Cairo over the past few days. While these actions mollified many of the protestors, others declared the start of the “Second Revolution” and called for a sit-in in Tahrir Square. To that end, a couple hundred people pitched a couple of tents and spent last night in Tahrir.
In fact, the situation was so calm that I had class at the American University today despite the fact that its gate was located in the tear-gass-filled no man’s land yesterday.
All is not as it seems, however. All forms of police presence have withdrawn from Tahrir. The white-shirted traffic cops were nowhere to be found; instead youth from popular committees are directing traffic as SCAF has elected to secede the symbolic space to the protestors.
This small victory is misleading, however, as the protestors currently gathered in Tahrir face a number of critical issues:
1. There is no united goal. Some of the protestors are family and friends of the martyrs of the January 25 Revolution demanding justice for their loved ones. Others are social activists and youth leaders demanding the resignation of the minister of the interior, the head of SCAF, or both. A few are baltagiya (hoodlums) looking to provoke a fight. Others are liberals demanding the drafting of a constitution prior the holding of Parliamentary elections in September. Most, however, are spectators who journeyed to Tahrir to watch the spectacle unfold.
The protests of late January and early February that led to disposal of Mubarak presented a common goal that not only prevented the regime from peeling individual elements off from the greater whole, but more importantly provided a single rallying cry that brought hundreds of thousands of people to Tahrir. The current protests lack this unifying goal.
2. The protestors lack the critical mass necessary to procure change. As cliché as it sounds numbers matter and quantity has a quality all of its own. Efforts by the April 6th Movement to move up the July 8th Day of Rage to today failed; A Facebook Event has emerged calling for a week-long sit tomorrow in order to preserve the revolution (but at the time of this post it had a mere 401 attendees). Mobilizing large numbers people is extremely difficult. Not only must there by a common message (which the current protests lack), but that message must be publicized effectively. While communicational technology – Facebook, Twitter, etc. – certainly aids in the latter endeavor, it reaches only the slimmest of slivers within Egyptian society – a sliver most of whose constituency is already in Tahrir.
3. People are tired of the lack of security and stability. In March when more than seventy percent of the Egyptian society voted in favor of the constitutional amendments, many were persuaded that a “yes” vote would lead to economic stability. Instead, labor strikes and sit-ins have become a common occurrence; tourism and foreign investment have fled the country; and the Egyptian Pound is depreciating on a daily basis. Despite refusing loans from the IMF and World Bank, Egypt’s economy is in shambles and will likely face a foreign exchange crisis in the not so distance future. Continued protests ensure continued instability that will continue to deter both foreign investment and tourists. Thus, while it was difficult to put bread on the table during the reign of the Mubarak, this difficulty pales in comparison to current situation today. As a result, significant segments of the Egyptian society have become frustrated and are decrying protestors for their lack of patience.
4. There a large elements of Egyptian society that oppose any attempts to derail the transition process. The interests Muslim Brotherhood (MB), Salafists, SCAF and former opposition parties (like al-Wafd) are best served Parliamentary elections are held in September. A new government would provide a convenient whipping boy for SCAF as it seeks to dodge the public ire and preserve its historical rule as the dominant player in Egyptian politics – especially given its refusal to grant any new civilian government oversight to its internal affairs. Meanwhile, early elections favor the MB, Salafists, and former opposition parties as they already possess the local political networks necessary to mobilize voters in an election.
SCAF, however, continues make political errors and squander opportunities to defuse the situation. Today, they allowed the trial Khaled Said’s murder to be postponed to September 24. While this ultimately will ensure the justice runs its due course (by allowing the prosecution to present additional evidence), SCAF nonetheless missed an opportunity to alleviate some of the tension found in Tahrir.
Ultimately, however, it is too early to tell where these protests will lead. Despite their many flaws listed above, the protests nonetheless possess the potential to mushroom in the near future. For nearly a month, Constitution First coalitions have been meticulously organizing a Day of Rage for next Friday (July 8, 2011). That is day of reckoning; not only are its demands supported by a petition carrying more than 15 million signatures but it has been renamed the Friday of Retribution.