Trends in Egypt

Life in Egypt these days is an exhausting process of constant evaluation: Are things going in the right direction? What are the good signs? What are the bad? What is the balance?

Every day, I'm compiling a mental a chart with pro and con, or "revolutionary" and "counter-revolutionary," columns. It sort of reminds me of those "What's Hot/What's Not" charts you find in magazines. 

What's Hot:

The movement against the constitutional amendments. Or at least heating up. A lot of respected figures in the country -- judges, activists, politicians, Amr Moussa and ElBaradei -- have spoken out against the rushed, half-assed constitutional reform on which Egyptians are expected to vote in one week (which, among other things, does not diminish the powers of the presidency and discriminates against women and Egyptians who have a foreign passport, wife, or grandparent). Instead, they are calling for the creation of a constitutional assembly that genuinely represents all Egyptians to draft the new constitution Egypt deserves. In one poll by Al Masry Al Youm, 59% of respondents said they would vote no in the referendum (in another poll, it was a tie). The Muslim Brotherhood reportedly supports the amendments. 

What's Not:

Sectarianism. After church burnings in villages and clashes between Christians and Muslims in the Cairo slum of Manshiyat Nasr that left 13 dead, there were demonstrations against sectarianism in Tahrir and a lot of the usual "national unity" talk. The sectarian clashes were sparked by a tragic Muslim-Christian romance, but many have been eager to blame then on the hidden hand of  remnants of the regime. Meanwhile, Ahmad Abdalla traveled to Atfih and discovered the villagers there burnt the church when rumours spread that Christians were practicing magic (on Muslim women, to make them divorce their husbands--because only black Christian magic could explain such behaviour). This blog post is obligatory reading

Read more of my list of promising and dispiriting recent trends in Egypt after the jump..

What's Hot:

Denouncing the counter-revolution. The Prime Minister himself has said to watch out for it, in a recent TV interview. So has ElBaradei--the difference is he actually specified what he meant by "counter-revolution," mentioning state security, the heads of state-owned media, and former regime figures. I'd like the PM and everyone else to likewise clarify what they mean--otherwise the counter-revolution is a dangerously amorphous grab-bag, that can get extended to include, say, protesters and strikers who are supposedly disrupting the economy. And used as an excuse to crack down on everybody. 

Ongoing investigations. Four top Ministry of Interior officials are now under investigation for giving the order to shoot civilians; and the NDP official who organized those infamous attackers on camel has reportedly been arrested. On the other hand, a lot of questions remain to be answered. 

What's not:

Thuggery. Everyone hates thugs these days. This would seem like a positive development. But there are two downsides: Anytime anything bad happens now, everyone blames "thugs," which often seems like a cop-out and doesn't really get to the bottom of things. Also, anyone can get labelled a thug, mistreated and paraded on state TV. It's an even more serious charge now that the army has just issued a new law making "thuggery, intimidation and disturbing the peace" punishable with the death penalty. 

The army, which continues to torture people and try civilians (many of them protesters) in whirlwind military tribunals. Unfortunately, the Arabic-language media is not touching this with a ten-foot-pole. 

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Ursula Lindsey

Ursula Lindsey is the managing editor of the Arabist blog. She writes about culture, education and politics in the Arab world. She lived in Cairo from 2002 to 2013 and got her start at the ground-breaking independent magazine Cairo Times. She was the culture editor of Cairo magazine in 2005-2006 and served as special projects editor at the independent news site Mada Masr in 2013-2014. She is the Chronicle of Higher Education's Middle East correspondent. She contributes to the BBC-PRI radio program The World, and has written for Newsweek, The New York Times, The New Yorker online, Bookforum and the blog of the London Review of Books.