The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Candle-light Vigil at Saad Zaghloul


Last night around 8pm, the various women's associations that are spouting up in protest to the violence against women on May 25th were supposed to convene a candle-light vigil.

Yet, as pictures confirm, there were by-far more men than women and the theme of the event changed from "women's issues" to a straight-out Kifaya function quickly. Unlike last week's protest in black where new females attended, the candle-light vigil witnessed those people staying away while other political trends showed up to participate.

It was pretty shocking to see al-Ghad's Ayman Nor show up. He announced this week if he is elected president that he intends to have a two-year transitional term after which he will hold fresh elections to help heal the political and historical wounds of Egypt. Ayman's attendance, and that of his entourage, supplemented the numbers a good deal.

In fact, this was the largest Kifaya protest since December. Reuters is saying 800 but it could have been 1000.

The event was more festive than previous protests. There was music, almost a hippie-ish atmosphere at times, and the slogans were playful digs at the president, the son, and the establishment.

The candles were a nice touch but it was hard to photograph.

At one point, some of the Kifaya shebab (youth) looked overtaken with anger and wanted to confront the security forces. The older and wiser Kifaya members, such as MB Abd al-Qaddos and businessman Anani, convinced the majority of the crowd to prevent them from doing so. After the faux-charge, I saw plain-clothes security figures with walkie-talkies grinning smugly.

My most interesting exchange of the evening was with a younger Kifaya activist I am friendly with. I said to him that it was a good turn out and surprised to see al-Ghad signed on. He looked at me and said, "al-Ghad has always been a part of us." Not wanting to hear it, I responded, "Come on...Ayman Nor is here. This is a little different than random folks from al-Ghad showing up." He looked around and and said, "You are right but to tell you the truth al-Ghad is not very strong." As we parted, I told him it is blending trends - not bashing them - that will determine Kifaya's future impact. He was more ambiguous about it.

The biggest news circulating last night and that which drew the most applause was that editor-in chiefs Samir Rageb (al-Gumhuriya) and Ibrahim Nafia (al-Ahram) were "resigned". I have not seen the papers yet today so I cannot confirm.

When departing, one of the guys I was with noticed some fits-a-cuffs breaking out in the street. We grabbed our cameras and started to shoot. The uniformed big-shots screamed into their walkie-talkies, "Bring them back! Bring them Back!" I then saw Abu Ala Madi talking to George Ishaq and telling him "Don't worry, it was nothing. It is nothing."

As we stood in the middle of the street trying to figure out what the hell happened, someone patted me on the shoulder. I turned around and it was Nabil Ezabi (the head of Cairo Security). He was dressed in a brown suit and he said to me, "There is nothing to see. Do you see how we have control?" He nodded "yeah". He had a huge sheepish smile on his face (I was waiting for him to wink at me).

As my friends and I walked down the street past the lines of stand-by security trucks, a female protester handed a candle to a solider sitting in the truck's driver seat. He reached out for it, and his superior - witnessing all this - flipped and smacked his hand. He rhetorically asked him in a loud voice, "What are you doing? Are you gay?" He then ordered the solider to get out of the truck. He was led to the back of the truck out of our view. So somebody went to bed without dinner last night for trying to be a human being.

It was a big protest by Cairo-standards. The venue was nice and watching protests at night is much nicer than standing on the syndicate stairs in the heat.

People are still angry about the attacks during the referendum. But, Kifaya is back and they milking this for all it is worth. If these past two demos indicate anything, Kifaya is incrementally getting bigger and bolder. But we are a bit aways from the security using coercion. I would like to say they learned their lesson but they didn't. They are just waiting for orders.
On another note, a new women's group is forming which plans to monitor fall elections "looking for abuse against women" but I suspect that this is a cover. No doubt they will monitor elections, and no doubt they will look to document abuses against women, but if that is absent, then they may diversify their monitoring mandate.

They are meeting at the syndicate today to plot and plan. They are calling themselves "shafiinkum" or "We See You". It is another catchy name for the PR astute Kifaya movement.