Hossam reminded me with this post that today's is the seventh anniversary of Kifaya's (or to use its proper name, the Movement for Change's) first protest against the rule of Hosni Mubarak. I remember being in a cab Downtown and driving past the High Court when I noticed a crowd. I got out to see what was happening and saw well-known leftist activists (it's important to note these were practically entirely leftists and nationalists) singing together a funny version of the Egyptian national anthem, with the lyrics changed to poke fun at Mubarak and Gamal. I was stringing for the London Times at the time and had to convince the editors that it was worth filing a piece despite the small size of the protests.
I wrote this post at the time — I'm glad I called it a "significant milestone."
It was those brave few people, at a time when no one else would dare call for an end to the Mubarak regime, who began to roll the snowball that turned into this year's avalanche — not the Muslim Brothers, not liberal activists, not political or business leaders. That's worth commemorating.
- Nahdet Misr (laconic): A strike without strikers.
The opposition-independent press
- Al-Badil (embarrassed): Weak participation in strike.
- Al-Dostour (oblivious): 6 April: small protests
The real big story of the day, though, are allegations by Masri al-Youm editor Magdi Gallad that Ayman Nour's wife and stalwart supporter, Gamila Ismail (well-known in Egypt as a former television presenter and later an advocate for her husband) that Gamila sent him a SMS saying she was divorcing Ayman. Ayman Nour then reportedly demanded that Gallad withdraw the edition of the paper where the information was published (with promises of a follow-up), which Gallad refused while lambasting Nour for attacking freedom of the press on public figures when Nour himself wants more transparency on public officials. It's not clear whether the news regarding the divorce has been confirmed yet, and Gamila has reportedly disappeared.
A quick round-up of info about Egypt's April 6 strike:
- You can follow updates on Twitter by using the #6April tag
- A couple of days ago the Karama party (leftist-Nasserist, unrecognized) held a conference in which it announced the latest opposition coalition initiative, the "Coalition of Egyptians for Change". It includes some of the usual figures from the Muslim Brothers (M. Abul Quddous) and a bunch of intellectuals like Sonallah Ibrahim and Alaa al-Aswaani. Here's a MET story on it that might exaggerate its import - remember it's not the first time such a coalition is formed, it should not have to be re-formed.
- The socialist Tagammu party is joining the strike, and Ayman Nour (I'm not sure you can say there remains much of a Ghad party, even if he is rebuilding) has backed it, as has the fledging Democratic Front. The liberal Wafd is against the strike, although some of the writers in its paper back it. Presumably the Nasserists back it.
- There have been a number of arrests of students and activists ahead of today's strike, most notably in Kafr al-Sheikh and Cairo. A Muslim Brother blogger, Abdel Rahman Fares has been arrested in Fayoum. Massive security presence expected in Cairo and elsewhere. Watch this al-Jazeera English report for background:
- Protests are being planned at various universities around the country, notably Cairo U. Elsewhere likely to be used in Cairo: the State Council, the Journalists' Syndicate, the General Federation of Trade Unions, and more.
- The Doctor's Syndicate will strike on April 9 asking for minimum wage, but there's some overlap with today. A protest is planned today in front of the Doctors' Syndicate on Qasr al-Aini St. The Pharmacists' Syndicate, the Bar Association and the Engineers' movement have announced they will not participate. Presumably the Judges' Club is not participating in light of its new pro-regime leadership, although its Alexandria branch still could.
- Hossam Tammam on the Brothers' participation or non-participation (at this point it remains unclear what they'll do, even if they've announced support for the strike):
In a replay of events last year the MB has declined to take part in the 6 April strike, although it says that it supports strikes as a form of political action guaranteed by the law and the constitution. Justifying its refusal to participate the MB said that as the country's largest opposition group it should have been consulted. This is more or less what the MB said last year. The excuse is starting to wear thin.
The MB is not known for its ability to maintain alliances outside the circle of Islamic activists or to perform as part of a broad political front. This is a result of the indoctrination that goes on in a closed organisation run through a strict hierarchy and which demands blind obedience to its leaders.
Another reason that prevents the MB from cooperating with other groups is the self-importance it has acquired since it started outperforming other opposition groups in elections. The MB has developed a habit of lecturing others about the great sacrifices it has made over the years.
Even if this were true, harping can only alienate other parties, if not the public as a whole. The fact is the MB's long history of suffering sometimes makes it act in an isolationist manner, as if it were a closely-knit clan, not a group seeking allies on the local political scene.
- Sandmonkey rants against the whole 6 April phenomenon.
- So does Hossam for very different reasons, namely that it's not a general strike if large labor unions are not participating. But it will be "a day of protests, a day of rage." He has some notes on MB youth and rifts on MB policy on this one.