Unsung heroes

Someone pointed out this LA Times story about the thousands of Egyptians injured in the revolution who today languish in hospitals, unaided by the government. It's one of the most depressing pieces I've read lately.

Since Jan. 28, when security forces beat him and ran him over during the protests that toppled President Hosni Mubarak, Mahmoud Mohamed has been unable to speak, walk, eat or use the bathroom on his own. His head is a tapestry of scars and bandages, tubes sprout from his neck, and his palsied hands are clasped in front of a now-bony chest.

He was trying to protect two friends. His mother says both were shot to death by security forces.

Images of Mohamed's former self stare back at him from beside his bed at Kasr El Aini Hospital: flush with youth, embracing a blushing fiancee who has since abandoned him. Behind them rests a framed certificate from fellow protesters pronouncing him a "hero of the revolution."

But like thousands of other Egyptians seriously injured during the protests, Mohamed is a forgotten hero, his family caught in a medical limbo, feeling betrayed by the government he fought to change.

Some of these people were bystanders injured accidentally. Many put themselves bravely in harm's way--and if they hadn't, the revolution wouldn't have succeeded. Meanwhile, the police responsible for maiming them for life have yet to be held accountable.

If anyone knows the contacts of organizations (like the one mentioned in this article, which I haven't been able to find online) that are helping these families please share in the comments section. We will do some information gathering of our own and hopefully have a post up soon for those interested in helping. 

The moral imperative of revolution

This piece in Foreign Policy, titled Everything You Think You Know About the Collapse of the Soviet Union Is Wrong is a great read to put the Arab revolutions in context. In the last few years of observing the Egyptian scene, I had become convinced that most of all Egypt was going through a moment of moral crisis and the moral collapse of the Mubarak regime's legitimacy. I still believe it was the key factor that made the January 25 possible. This passage in the FP piece, by Leon Aron, comes after an explanation of how the Soviet Union appeared solid in most respects, and is very instructive in that regard:

For though economic betterment was their banner, there is little doubt that Gorbachev and his supporters first set out to right moral, rather than economic, wrongs. Most of what they said publicly in the early days of perestroika now seems no more than an expression of their anguish over the spiritual decline and corrosive effects of the Stalinist past. It was the beginning of a desperate search for answers to the big questions with which every great revolution starts: What is a good, dignified life? What constitutes a just social and economic order? What is a decent and legitimate state? What should such a state's relationship with civil society be?

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Egypt graffiti


One of a series of murals in Zamalek

One of the great visual after-effects of the January 25 Revolution has been the proliferation of graffiti on the streets of Cairo (and other Egyptian cities). It's not just the scrawls of "Down with Mubarak" that remain as reminders of that first surreal morning when we all woke up to a city whose reality had been shattered. Street art in in full bloom today, ranging from beautiful murals to stencils of martyrs to clever visual jokes and swipes at the military council.

Hussein and Hosni, sittin' on a tree... 

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Where Egypt is at

The #May 27 "Second Revolution" came and went this weekend without the drama that many had expected. Turnout was pretty good — good enough to show that the ranks of those unsatisfied with the current state of affairs is plenty big, and big enough to show that the Muslim Brothers' participation is not essential to getting a decent number of people protesting. Impressive also was that the protests took place across the country, as Zeinobia points out with her gallery of videos. Get more videos and an account at Jadaliyya. It may not be a second revolution but it's enough to keep the SCAF on its toes and give media traction to multiple grievances: high-ranking corruption, insecurity, slow justice, heavy-handedness of the military, etc. 

Although many of these grievances are indeed worthwhile, this opposition movement should start coalescing over one or two core demands with regards to the transition. It has already been a tragedy of Egypt's revolution that the revolutionaries did not have a clear aim beyond the removal of Mubarak and that the post-Mubarak transition has been handled poorly, to say the least, by a SCAF that is guilty of bumbling incompetence perhaps more than malice. In particular, the transition process could have been more along the lines of Tunisia's, with an elected constituent assembly rather than one appointed by parliament and independent commissions to investigate corruption as well as violence. The real drama, it seems to me, is that right now transitional justice consists of immediately going after certain persons (those close to Gamal Mubarak) yet only going after older apparatchiks (NDP apparatchiks, etc.) after popular pressure forced the SCAF to. And, most of all, a piecemeal approach to trying former officials: consider that Hosni Mubarak has just been fined for cutting off the internet, and may only be tried for the violence during the revolution, while not being held accountable for 30 years of autocracy.

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Remember that moment

I had missed this entry on the Economist's Democracy in America blog on February 11, 2011:

Whether or not Egypt flowers into a model democracy, whether or not Egyptians tomorrow live more freely than Egyptians today, today they threw off a tyrant. The surge of overwhelming bliss that has overtaken Egyptians is the rare beautitude of democratic will. The hot blush of liberation, a dazzled sense of infinite possibility swelling millions of happy breasts is a precious thing of terrible, unfathomable beauty, and it won't come to these people again. Whatever the future may hold, this is the happiest many people will ever feel. This is the best day of some peoples' lives. The tiny Dionysian anarchist on my other shoulder is no angel, but I cannot deny that there is something holy in this feeling, that it is one of few human experiences that justifies life—that satisfies, however briefly, our desperate craving for more intensity, for more meaning, for more life from life. Whatever the future holds, there will be disappointment, at best. But there is always disappointment. Today, there is joy. 

It's worth remembering that moment, not so long ago, coming back to it periodically.

[via Shehab]

Humor and the Egyptian revolution

I am quoted in this NYT piece on the role humor played in the Egyptian revolution. (But why is my name misspelt in two different ways, ya Michael ya Slackman? Come on NYT editors, it's not like I don't have a website.) The piece argues humor has been dampened, which I don't quite agree with (saw plenty of it in last Friday's demo) but makes the more important point that it was a crucial tool during the occupation of Tahrir Square:

That is quite a comedown from the heady days when there was a renewed sense of national purpose, of unity regardless of religion or class among those massing in the square. In those 18 days, humor and sarcasm played a crucial role in coping and conquering.

“Mubarak’s people threw rocks,” said Fahmy Howeidy, a well-known columnist and social commentator, referring to thugs who threw stones at demonstrators. “The people charged Mubarak with jokes and comedy.”

At least some of that was planned. “There was a lot of spontaneous humor — it is the Egyptian character — but there also was a desire to show that the demonstrators weren’t just angry young men, that they weren’t just seen as Islamists,” said Mr. Amrani, the blogger.

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Students and professors in the revolution

I just wrote something for The Chronicle of Higher Education about the role that professors and students played (and hope to play in the future) in the revolution. Groups like March 9 (established by professors to fight for academic freedom) and 6 April (established in solidarity with labour strikes but seemingly also the most active left-wing group among university students) played a role not just in planning and joining the protests, but in laying the groundwork for them. It will be interesting to see if, when national universities re-open next week, we'll see a surge of activism on campuses, which have been tightly monitored and controlled until now.

I'm also curious about the role that high-profile scientists and academics may have in the new government. The Egyptian-American scientists and Nobel winner Ahmad Zewail, in particular, seems to be someone worth watching.