What Killed Egyptian Democracy?

Continuing today's reflection on the failure of Egypt's revolutionaries, do not miss the sequence of essays in the Boston Review on this issue, starting off with Mohammed Fadel who argues revolutionary purity was the enemy of pragmatic progress:

The January 25 Revolution was also a striking failure of political theory. More precisely, it was a failure of the theories embraced by the most idealistic revolutionaries. Their demands were too pure; they refused to accord any legitimacy to a flawed transition—and what transition is not flawed?—that could only yield a flawed democracy. They made strategic mistakes because they did not pay enough attention to Egypt’s institutional, economic, political, and social circumstances. These idealists generally were politically liberal. But the problem does not lie in liberalism itself. The problem lies in a faulty understanding of the implications of political liberalism in the Egyptian context—an insufficient appreciation of factors that limited what could reasonably be achieved in the short term. A more sophisticated liberalism would have accounted for these realities.

P.S. Fadel has more grim reflections on the state of Egyptian society on his blog, where he doubts the very existence of Egyptian liberals or revolutionaries. 

"Our sin was pride"

From a long essay by imprisoned revolutionary activists Alaa Abdel Fattah and Ahmed Douma, in which they reflect on what went wrong:

Our sin was pride not treachery. We said, “We’re not like those who came before us, and so the young of the Brotherhood are different and the young Nasserites are different and the leftist young are different and the young liberals are different.” The weakness of our myth was exposed when we came up against the young officers.

To read alongside Steve's post on the revolutionary's need for self-examination – can't really say it's not happening, just that it's happening too late.

The Arab world into the unknown

The Arab world into the unknown

Our friends Peter Harling and Sarah Birke contributed the following piece, a reflection on the state of the Arab world after a confounding 2013 that saw, for many, the dissipation of the enthusiasm of 2011. Harling is Senior MENA advisor at the International Crisis Group; Birke is a Middle East Correspondent for The Economist.

Two and a half years ago, Arab countries were abuzz with interesting conversations. Rich and poor, old and young, villager and urbanite, Islamist and secular all had their own take on the bewildering turmoil of the uprisings they were caught up in. They tended to be aware of the risks, hopeful that change was both inevitable and ultimately beneficial, and proud that the region could awaken and, after centuries of foreign interference, set its own agenda. Opinions were also invariably sophisticated, with people speaking profoundly about societies they thought they knew and had started to reassess. 

This was a refreshing change from the pre-2011 tune of impotence. The region at that point, as its inhabitants saw it, was hostage to ossified regimes, intractable conflicts, worn-out narratives, and crumbling economies – not to mention Western hypocrisy, and schizophrenia, about urging client regimes to reform. Sterile agitation on the regional or international front, notably around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, distracted from thorough stagnation in domestic politics. Commentary was a cyclical run through the latest episode of violence, round of sanctions, realignment of alliances, or half-hearted diplomatic ventures. Uninspiring solutions to lingering problems left citizens reluctant to choose, among players in this game, the lesser of evils. Standing up to the US (like firebrand Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) or surviving an Israeli assault (as Hezbollah did in 2006 and Hamas in 2009) could certainly make you popular beyond your traditional base, but not for long. 

Less than three years after popular protests streaked across the Arab world, conversations appear to have come full circle. Optimism that societies in the region could no longer be ignored and would bring about change has reverted to doom and gloom. Outside observers have jumped from one label to the next: Arab spring to Islamist autumn to reactionary winter. All-too often, local residents view protests as a conspiracy, a naïve illusion or an ill-fated hope at best. Many see a stark choice between a failing old order and hegemonic Islamist rule—or war, as in Syria. Opinions are generally crude, aggressively intolerant and more rigid than ever. Interlocutors sport surprisingly definite conclusions about their home-region, no matter how fluid and contradictory the current trends actually are. 

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A dictionary of the revolution

Artist Amira Hanafy -- whose work I've written about here before -- is doing a kickstarter campaign to raise money for her next project, a dictionary of the revolution. She will travel around the country soliciting people's definition of various terms that have come into heavy use in the last years. 

Dictionary_Image2-3.jpg

From a press release about the project: 

“I’m not interested in creating one uncomplicated narrative for the revolution,” says Hanafi. “You could say, I’m not interested in “the Truth”. Instead, I’m interested in the truths that people believe. Egypt’s population is around 85 million. That means 85 million unique perspectives, 85 million truths. For one unique and incredible moment, it seemed that a great majority of those people were in agreement on what the country needed. But what’s happening in Egypt today is a clash of many truths. I’m interested in documenting the complexity of this moment.”

 

Tahrir has lead to...

Alaa Abdelfattah writes:

Tahrir has lead to an explosion of activism and community engagement. But Tahrir has also exposed the weaknesses in the current model of organizing. Relying too much on a small, highly connected network of activists who work on all causes at once has led to a revolution where 'the people' were not later represented in the political process. It has mobilized masses with no community memory of the long struggles that led to the uprising. Legions of citizen hungry for change and looking for ways to help change happen are failing because they lack the proper networks and experiences.

What next? That's been the question for two years.

/Source

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Today's Arabic

I wrote a piece recently for Al Fanar -- a new English-Arabic portal about higher education in the Arab world -- about concerns over the "loss" of classical Arabic, supposedly threatened by the spread of foreign language schools, the Westernization of young Arabs, and the historical phenomenon of diglossia

Is the Arabic that young people speak today — grammatically “incorrect,” full of dialect, foreign words and neologisms — a threat to linguistic heritage and cultural identity? Or is it the natural development of a vital, globalized vernacular?

During the uprising against Hosni Mubarak, there were two slogans: الشعب يريد اسقاط النظام ("The People Want the Fall of the Regime") was in Fosha, or classical Arabic and -- as that language does -- it traveled across borders, from one Arab country to the other. But in Egypt there was also another slog: ارحل يعني امشي ("'Depart' means get out!") which "translated" the Fosha word for "leave" into the Aameya one. The revolution spread alongside a classical slogan, but they also saw an eruption of colloquial Arabic, indispensible to satire and subversion, to "telling it how it is," into the stultified public discourse, and I think that will remain the case (look at Bassem Youssef, look at mahraganaat music). 

That said Arabic-speakers don't want to lose contact with Fosha -- the language of the Koran and of literary heritage -- and there are very strong religious, political, cultural arguments against doing so. Ideally, young Arabs could master the entire colloquial-classical spectrum, plus a foreign language or two, and be all the richer for it. The fundamental challenge is not linguistic but has to do rather with low literacy and low-quality education. 

Egyptian writers and revolutions

"Black, not noir," is how our friend Adam Shatz describes Sonallah Ibrahim's groundbreaking debut novel Tilka El-Reiha, which has just been translated -- along with Ibrahim's early prison diaries -- by Robyn Creswell as The Smell and Notes from Prison

Readers of the blog will know that I am a great admirer of Ibrahim's (I'll post a profile of him I wrote a few years ago, on the occasion of the English translation of his autobiographical novel Stealth, at the end of this post). Not only is he one of the most original and talented writers of his generation, but he is also one of its most principled. What marks both his writing and his politics is a startling, almost compulsive honesty.

Shatz looks at the relationship between Ibrahim's prison memoirs (he was incarcerated by Nasser, in his early twenties, for being a Communist) and his fiction, and at the literary, personal and political influences and traumas that find expression in both. 

Only faint echoes of the cause that inspired Ibrahim can be heard in That Smell. An old comrade of the narrator’s rhapsodises about the masses, but seems to lack conviction, and this is the last we hear of the revolution. In occasional, italicised flashbacks, Ibrahim pays tribute to the solidarity the party created among its members, the small kindnesses that made prison life more bearable. On a visit to the wife of a comrade who died in prison, the narrator remembers sitting in the back of a police van while her husband sang ‘snatches of an old love song over and over’. He doesn’t share this memory, because just at that moment his friend was given a beating and taken away: ‘that was the last time I saw him.’ She asks if her husband loved her, and the narrator replies that he did, but also thinks to himself: ‘What could I say, what was the point of going into it after it was over, and who knows what goes on inside another person anyway?

Apart from these flashbacks, That Smell takes place in the dead zone of the present, ‘after it was over’: ‘it’ is the experience of a generation of Egyptian leftists who rallied to Nasser’s revolution only to find they had nowhere to go other than prison or exile. ‘The narrator’s stupor,’ Creswell writes, ‘is the daze of depoliticisation.’ But the narrator isn’t the only one wandering around in a daze. The conductor on the metro stops to ‘put a lump of opium in his mouth and sip some tea. Lucky man, I thought. He’d found a way to live that let him put on a brave face.’ Images of death and disfigurement are everywhere: on the street, a dead man lies ‘covered with bloody newspapers’; a pretty girl the narrator notices on the train turns out to be missing a limb. Even those who have found happiness, or what they’ve been told is happiness, seem doomed: his brother’s wife won’t have sex with him unless he pays her; his friend Samia, now a wife and mother, is ‘stuck for ever. There was nothing to do but submit.’ Desire is consummated with something like satisfaction – or honesty, without the pressures of marriage or the need for cash incentives – only when members of the same sex are involved. Ibrahim has spoken obliquely of his own relations with men in prison, and writes in his story ‘The Snake’ that after prison one comes to see ‘everything as normal’. The lack of normalising judgment, much less homophobia, in his work stands in contrast to, say, Alaa al-Aswany’s Yacoubian Building, where gays are represented as sex-crazed, dandified predators.

For some reason reading about Ibrahim made me think of this very powerful (and fantasmagorical) piece of writing by novelist Youssef Rakha. It's in a completely different register from Ibrahim's affectless chronicle of alienation (and it uses global consumerism -- the destructive reach of which is a theme of Ibrahim's later work -- as an international vernacular). But it also captures a different moment of political disappointment, which in this cases produces enraged flippancy rather than numbness. I have to quote at some length: 

You’ve been in Cairo six months, you say. So you know: first we agitated on Facebook. We set a date, a time, and a venue for a big demonstration. Tahrir Square, yes. The riot police killed some of us, and we had an even bigger demonstration. That day they killed so many we ended up occupying the place—millions of us, eventually—protected by the Army. And what were we protesting? Brutality and bureaucracy, control and corruption. Plans to make the presidency a hereditary post, the way it is in Syria. Not, you understand, the conditions of Islam. The plight of the Umma was not on our list of grievances; if anything, we were angry because we didn’t feel we were part of the non-Umma. When we realized something was happening we called it a Revolution, the second, must-see episode in the Arab Spring series.

That was January–February, 2011. And, until February–March, 2012, when it became obvious that our protests were playing into Islamists’ hands and I fell prey to despair, I was deeply involved: as a tweep, a chant-author, a maker of improvised anti-tear gas masks, a field hospital doctor (because, even though I’m thirty-two years old, I’m still a medical student hoping to graduate some day). I was there for every demonstration, every portable slaughterhouse. I saw bodies dismembered by corrugated wheels and blunt swords gashing heads. I hurled stones at people in uniform. I chanted. And that’s how I got the name Che Nawwarah, after the Communist icon Che Guevara. He too was a failed physician. Though now that I’ve read about him, I suspect he was only a fanatical psychopath, a serial killer with pretensions.

The protests started to feel like voluntary sacrificial rites to help the bearded bastards get more power, and I stopped going. I didn’t even try to warn my comrades because I knew they wouldn’t listen. In my despair I could tell the mini-inquisitions were round the corner. Already strangers ruled over us, worse than the tyrants of before. Now that the Islamists were identified with the Revolution, there was no one that would deliver us out of their hand. We would be getting our bread with the peril of our lives because of the thug’s sword. Good Muslims would hang by their hands—not only metaphorically, either—and, by sexual harassment, premature marriage, and female genital mutilation, the women of Cairo would be ravished, so would the maids of the Nile Delta. The faces of true human beings who spoke out would not be spared—but wait! I should explain the difference between Muslim and Islamist in case you’re not an operative and don’t know.

Most Egyptians are Muslim by birth. Many practice, but until the hijab became ubiquitous in the nineties, you could hardly tell. The Islamists are the ones who carry Islam on their person the way you carry an electronic gadget on the subway. From months of study I’ve decided that they don’t stand out in any other way, except maybe by hating women and Christians, foreigners like you and so-called liberals like me. They just have pre-cultural Bedouin beliefs that they call Islam. And they flaunt those beliefs in a range of brands: Nokia-Jihadi (kill the infidels), Samsung-Salafi (kowtow to the autarch and marry as many as four circumcised nine-year-old girls at a time), Apple-Muslim Brotherhood (win elections, win more elections, and win still more elections). . . . The Islamists were the ones who, unbeknown to us, somehow, inherited the Revolution.

Finally, here is my profile of Ibrahim, who better than any other writer in Egypt articulated what was rotten in the land:

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In Translation: The Revolutionary Youth Coalition's final report

We're really fortunate to bring to you a long translation of an important document today — one made possible by the upstanding chaps at Industry Arabic, who provide great Arabic translation services and more. If you or your business have need of top-notch translation from Arabic into another language, please give them a try and help them keep on helping us.

The Revolutionary Youth Coalition was the most important umbrella group to emerge out of the protest movement of January 25. It continued to be the main reference and contact point for "youth" for several interlocutors in the months that followed Mubarak's overthrow, holding meetings with state representatives and often representing protestors at national conferences and elsewhere. On July 8, the Coalition announced its dissolution and published the document below —  an examination of its actions, mistakes and successes in the last sixteen months. As the writers note, such self-examination is rare in Egyptian politics, particularly as it has descended into a circus in the last few months. It makes for poignant reading, and I've added a few notes for clarification.

An Account of the Actions of the Coalition of Revolutionary Youth

From the Coalition of Revolutionary Youth Facebook page, July 8, 2012.

We believe that every experience should either continue or end according to facts on the ground and logical reasoning. And — even though it is not standard operating procedure in Egypt — we believe it is necessary that every group and/or political entity submit a transparent and clear account that outlines what the organization has done over time, be it good or bad.

Under exceptional circumstances, like that of the great Egyptian people’s Revolution, we contend that it is our duty to publish this account for the Egyptian public, for they placed their trust in the Coalition of Revolutionary Youth, as well as for those who criticized the organization. This account is also dedicated to the best of Egypt’s youth – the activists and believers in the goals and values of this revolution and similar revolutionary movements – as well as for that sector of the Egyptian elite who did what they could in service to this nation. This is for the admirable victims of this revolution who paid the greatest price and who continue to do so for the sake of this revolution; and this is also for the souls of the revolutionary martyrs who continue to fall – up to today – in anticipation of the day when this nation will achieve freedom and dignity, the day when each Egyptian will receive his demands for “Bread, Freedom, and Social Justice.”

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WSJ on "Egypt's derailed revolution"

I was interviewed a while back from this video, which features many Egyptian political players (and some friends).

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

An Egyptian revolutionary "J'accuse"

I can hardly think of a more effective way to convey Egyptian revolutionaries' feeling towards political parties, the military and the whole idea that they were robbed of a revolution than the above video.

The split that has developed between those who espouse this worldview and the rest of the country is a little worrying, because it can turn into a lasting bitterness and misanthropy. What is needed down is to turn this frustration into effective new ways of organizing, lobbying, and campaigning.

And if that video depressed you, cheer up and watch this one:

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

In Translation: Samer Soliman on revolution and reform

For the last few weeks, a favorite topic of conversation around many Cairene tables - particularly those of activists and the politically involved - is how to commemorate the upcoming anniversary of the 25 January uprising. For some, it should be a celebration of the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak. At the other end of the spectrum, more radical activists are calling for a "second revolution" and a repeat of the events of late January 2011, when, in the revolutionary narrative, "the people defeated the police state." The emerging dominant political players in Egypt - most notably the Muslim Brotherhood - have approached this issue carefully. They do not want another wave of protests only two days after the parliament that they control opens. They want to give some space to lingering grievances, but also control the situation in case radicals push for things to go another way.

I picked the following article because it reminded me of a conversation I recently had (at an excellent Iranian table - thanks P.) with two leading Egyptian human rights workers who worried that many of their friends had taken up revolutionary theory, were tempted by using violence against the state, and unwilling to see that they were a minority. In the article below, Samer Soliman, who teaches at AUC and is a well-known liberal writer, takes those types of revolutionaries to task.

As always, translation is provided by the awesome Industry Arabic, purveyors of fine translation services and more. 

 

A critical stance in support of my colleagues in the Revolution

By Samer Soliman, al-Shurouk, 9 January 2012

The revolution’s one-year anniversary represents a chance for reassessment and self-criticism by all those who participated in it. From this standpoint, the criticism that I direct at the positions and ideas of some of my revolutionary colleagues is the criticism of a comrade and has no trace of superiority. Its aim is to improve the performance of reform and revolutionary currents and get past unnecessary divisions in order to achieve our shared goal: establishing a state based on freedom, social justice and human dignity. I have four criticisms for some of my colleagues.

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Culture and activism

I have a new piece up at the Middle East Research and Information Project about cultural production and cultural activism in Egypt. There is so much different kinds of cultural activity going on these days that it's hard to categorize, and there are many more artists and projects I could have referenced.  I've tried to make some general observations:

It is not easy to combine aesthetic and political ambitions in order to creatively address the revolutionary moment. For one thing, many artists and writers have continued to be active in the protest movement itself -- they have little detachment from the events of the last year, and their energies are depleted by their participation in protests, organizing meetings and advocacy campaigns. In their political work, they can face significant personal risk, like their fellow citizen-activists. In late December, at a press conference convened to deny army responsibility for the horrific violence visited by soldiers upon protesters near the cabinet, a blustering member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces suddenly denounced Muhammad Hashim -- head of the independent and widely esteemed publishing house Merit -- as one of several conspirators being investigated for instigating attacks upon the army. (His crime, it appears, consisted of supplying protesters with blankets and helmets.)

For another, it is too early for artists or anyone else to map the contours of the current juncture with any clarity. In late January 2011, there was a rupture in the reality Egyptians had known for so long. Many artists and novelists, returning home elated if exhausted from weeks of protesting, simply scrapped whatever work they were doing. Since then, the rapid pace of events -- or, many would say, of reversals -- has rendered it nearly impossible to fix a vantage point from which to consider developments. The Egyptian revolution is not yet a subject of art; it is an ongoing experience.

And I only just saw the trailer for this cool-looking documentary, "The Noise of Cairo," -- on artists and their relationship to the revolution. 

The Noise of Cairo (Trailer) from scenesfrom on Vimeo.

Revolution and art

I've been struggling with the (largely nonsensical) question of "revolutionary art" for a while now, as I work on a forthcoming piece for MERIP on cultural production in Egypt over the last year. It was therefore and extra pleasure to read this piece by friend of the blog Negar Azimi, which neatly sums up some of the pitfalls of the genre:

A survey of titles of works from recent exhibitions in Cairo reveals the following: ‘Freedom’, ‘Drink Freedom’, ‘Shadow of Freedom’, ‘People Demand’, ‘Man Crying’, and so on. This, it turns out, is the sort of revolution-kitsch the market seeks. Mona Said, the owner of the Safar Khan Gallery in Cairo, told Reuters that she had held a show of revolutionary art in March that was so successful that she sold four times the amount she expected and ended up shipping works to clients all around the world. To be blandly political is in vogue and to be apolitical risks flirting with philistinism. This is, of course, not entirely surprising in a country in which the faces of revolutionary martyrs have been mass-produced on car air-fresheners.

It is not surprising at all to me that artists should have trouble representing the revolution right now -- it's a ridiculous demand to make of them in the first place. On the other hand, as Negar also points out, there has been an outpouring of creative energy which in particular forms (graffiti, theater, perhaps music) has spoken to this historical moment in some very meaningful and moving ways. The use of Tahrir itself as a dramatic performance space has of course been remarked upon by many, and there have been some great new ventures, like Tahrir Cinema and El-Fan Midan

Also worth checking out: the last issue of Bidoun magazine, which Negar edits, dedicated to cleverly and creatively trying and (by its own admission) failing to address the Egyptian revolution. 

Ikhwan rap?

This You Tube video of what appears to be a rap song for the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party has been making the rounds. The song's lyrics don't seem to be satyrical at all: "We hope you'll hear from us just as you've heard about us. We've suffered 80 years of defamation. I'm from Freedom and Justice. We'll protect freedom and we'll build justice." But many commenters nonetheless are convinced that it's all a mockery. They either think this is hilarious or they think it's very haram. Oh, and the creator of the video explains in the comments that the picture of Eminem "got in by mistake." Don't know what to think myself. 

There's a small but burgeoning rap scene in Egypt these days. I haven't heard anything I'm crazy about yet -- nothing as good as North African rap -- but I'm intrigued by labels like Revolution Records.

The refrain of this song, "Down with Military Rule," goes: "It looks like you forgot who we are/You think we're still scared/We saw death and just smiled and stood there/Let me remind you since you've forgotten/We're the revolutionary generation."

Sacrifice

(This image circulated online. The lion statue is one of a pair that stand on either side of the Kasr El Nil bridge)

One of the effects of the police's policy of shooting directly at protesters' heads in the last 3 days has been that many of them have lost an eye.

Ahmad Harara, a dentist, lost one eye on January 28 and one three days ago, on November 19.

Over 11,000 people were injured (and 800 killed) during the January 25th uprising, and no one, to this date, has been held responsible. It's this combination of brutality and impunity that has brought people back to the streets.

And protesters are devising ways to protect themselves. Some have industrial-style goggles. Others are sharing ingenious ways to make home-made visors.

Just another indication (as if one was needed) of the extraordinary resolve of Egyptians to see their revolution through.

Revolution 2.0?

After the police violently  cleared 100 or so demonstrators (including a group of the relatives of revolutionary martyrs and injured) from Tahrir Square today, thousands more poured into the square and began clashing with the security forces, burning one police truck and trying to reach the Ministry of Interior. The Ministry of Interior denies using any bullets, pellets or bird shot, but witnesses have widely documented their use. Hundreds are injured, and one dead confirmed so far. Tens of thousands have streamed into Downtown Cairo and are demonstrating in Alexandria, Suez and Mansoura. The fighting goes on, and people are saying that it feels like January 28 all over again. 

These clashes feel almost unavoidable, given the military council's terrible performance, the increasing vocal criticism it is facing, the rising tensions of all kinds surrounding the upcoming (poorly planned, utterly confusing) elections -- given the terribly unclear transition process that has been put in place, and the fact that none of the revolution's demands, including the reform of the security forces and real transitional justice, have been met. 

Islamist leaders -- the Salafist sheikh Hazem Salah Abu Ismail and the Islamist presidential candidate Mohammed Selim El Awwa -- have gone to Tahrir. Mohammed El Baradei is once again calling for the creation of a "national salvation" government. 

This is a huge escalation, and it's not clear whether it may lead to something good (an accelerated transition to civilian government, and a better articulated plan for that transition built on a real consensus between all political forces) or to something even worse (a further army crack-down, the cancellation of elections without proposing an alternative). 

On TV tonight, there was plenty of criticism for SCAF, the government and the police and of lamenting of the fact that there is no governing body with legitimacy in the country today. But of course there were also the usual conspiracy theories and condenmations of "chaos." 

A chant in the square used to be "The People and the Army are One Hand." Today people chanted (with their usual wit) "The People and the People are One Hand." 

Five January 25 gains that have (so far) survived the counter-revolution

As quite a few commentators have gloomily noted, an Egyptian counter-revolution appears to be in full swing. The Supreme Council for the Armed Forces has vowed to step up its use of Emergency Law and demonstrating a willingness to crack down on street protesters, strikers, critics of the military, NGOs who receive foreign funding, and anyone else who might trouble their hold over the country. Newspapers are again being censored. The Interior Ministry seems to have successfully resisted real reform, at least for the time being. Supporters of the revolution are trying to count the tangible achievements of the January uprising and coming up short, sober observers are reminding us that those who create a revolution rarely get to determine its outcome, and some Edmund Burkes are surveying the scene and declaring that they knew all along that the naive youth of Facebook could never seriously shape the course of Egypt's future, except as pawns.

I would agree that the vision of Egypt's future articulated by protesters in Tahrir is still far from being realized. However, they have already accomplished far more than many would give them credit for doing. Some examples:

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Egyptian women and the revolution

Photo by Rena Effendi

I have a piece in Newsweek magazine about Egyptian women and the revolution. I started working on this in March. Perhaps because I was focusing on the topic, I've been particularly aware of women's absence from the post-Mubarak decision-making process.

The morning of January 28 I was sitting in a room of activists, and quite a few of them were women. There were women in the street that day, and there were a lot of women in Tahrir.  But women have been largely missing, not just from the two most influential organizations of the post-Mubarak era -- the army and the Muslim Brotherhood -- but from opinion columns and the podiums of press conferences, from the courtrooms and of course from all the positions that have yet to open to them, such as being governors or university deans or heads of state institutions. We have one female minister, Fayza Abul Naga, and she is a Mubarak hold-over. (The one area where women are quite influential is the media, with female TV talk show presenters becoming quite well-known public personalities). 

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Words of Women from the Egyptian revolution

The is the trailer for a documentary film titled Words of Women from the Egyptian Revolution. They're fundraising to complete the project. It sheds light on the things many Egyptian women did on the front lines and behind the scenes to support the uprising. It's a nice idea at a time when many complain that women have largely receded from the post-revolution political scene, notably in the formation of political parties.

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Cultural revolution

Since Mubarak's ouster, I've been trying to follow some small portion of the many creative reactions to this time in Egypt's history. Many of the artists and writers I know personally were in Tahrir Square, and have since been struggling to make sense of their experience; to balance their work and their political commitments; and to take advantage of new opportunities for collective action, free speech, and making use of public space. 

A mural in Downtown Cairo (since painted over) created as part of an art awareness campaign

For the design magazine Print, I put together a selection of images that speak (or spoke, a few months back -- these things change quickly) to the visual legacy of the revolution.

And I just wrote a piece on "cultural revolution" for Foreign Policy looking at some of the many grassroots cultural initiatives taking place now; at artists' efforts to contribute creatively to the revolution (and their many acts of opposition, well before it, to the Mubarak regime); and at how the cultural landscape might be changing. There is also an accompanying slide show