It’s hard not to be affected by the rampant defeatism prevalent in the non-Islamist population these days. Between those who are questioning the merits of a revolution that seems to be taking the country towards theocracy, and those who sacrificed time, money, effort, friends, relationships and their sanity for the hope of making this country one that values rights and freedoms and yet are only left with mounting injustices, it’s almost impossible to avoid all kinds of depressing conversations, that only get worse once you start getting into the “who has immigrated/is immigrating/looking for a way out” list of friends, family members and acquaintances. The sense of bitterness and helplessness, mixed with a very strong rebound of good old Egyptian apathy, is creating a very unique blend of defeatism that seems to have infected liberal revolutionaries, non-Islamist conservatives (feloul) and independents (Kanaba) alike, and that makes them shrug any effort to get them to fight for their rights, like the coming 12 October protest, or face off the mounting injustices that are springing all around us, which is why the country is going downhill.
An integral reason for such defeatism is the very real and deep sense of division that exists within the ranks of the non-Islamist population, the different factions of which do not possess the leaders, perspective or mechanisms to actually end and which exists for very valid reasons, even, and especially, among revolutionary ranks. In a political atmosphere where the people are disillusioned with both leaders, parties and movements, and judge whether or not to go join a protest based upon its demands, who is calling for it and who will attend, no sustainable civic engagement or strong political opposition seems possible, which is especially dangerous given the ridiculous constitution that the Constituent Assembly will be voting on this week and the parliamentary elections that will follow. This atmosphere makes attendance of such protests very low, which in turn fuels the sense of defeatism even more, and we end up with a never-ending vicious circle of despair and helplessness. It’s a very challenging problem, but thankfully, it’s not one hard to solve, if people just looked at things differently; what we need is an energizer, and I know exactly how we can do it.
Let’s make a call for a different kind of protest, and we will call it “the Friday of diversity” to keep with the tradition of Friday protests. The day will not be sponsored by parties, movements or political groups, and will not have the traditional set of demands. It will be a day where we invite anyone and everyone from the non-Islamist side to demonstrate for one purpose only: to show that they exist and that they are not satisfied with the direction that the country is going. A show of force, nothing more. This naturally brings up two questions: how will you convince those factions to join protests together; and how will you actually mobilise people to come down? Excellent questions. Let’s tackle them separately.
The answer of the first question is simple: the protest is called the day of diversity for a reason; it’s a show and celebration of the deep political, social and cultural diversity that exists in Egyptian society, and how we can all vehemently disagree with one another on every level and still live with each other.A day where we agree to disagree and still co-exist, which is the core of living in a democracy anyway. The point of this protest isn’t creating a unified front or reconciliation of any kind, but rather to send a message to the government that: there is a non-Islamist and diverse majority in this country (look back at the numbers of the first round of presidential elections if you doubt that) that will not be bullied around or oppressed by an organised and ideologically fascist minority, even if they all don’t see eye to eye; and that there is deep dissatisfaction with the direction this government is taking the country, from constitutional debates about lowering the marriage age to nine years old for girls, to increasing censorship on every source of media, to the disdain for religion cases that are growing at an exponential rate, to the million other embarrassing and horrifying pieces of news that seem to make our daily reality. Not only is President Morsy completely ignoring the concerns and demands of the millions who voted for his opponent and the millions of secular Egyptians who voted for him just to not have Shafiq win, he is acting as if his election was a referendum on whether or not we should implement a Shari’a-based Muslim-Brotherhood state, which, if you ask the revolutionaries and independents who voted for him, is not even close to be true. And, between you and me, it’s high time for the various and diverse forces of this society to send him a signal that this is not the case, and that Egypt is home to more than just the Muslim Brotherhood. It’s not to have the revolutionaries stand in agreement or reconcile with the Shafiqistas, as much as it is a symbolic acknowledgement that we are very different people who have very different views and yet live and co-exist in the same homeland, and will not allow a different group to mess with our rights and freedoms as citizens because their candidate won a very close and polarising election. We would be having a day where we celebrate our differences, instead of bemoan it: a day of social, cultural, and political diversity.
How will we mobilise for it? Simple. Any and every non-Islamist group that sees its way of life, not to mention their hopes and aspirations for this country, threatened by the direction the current regime is taking the country, should mobilise its own people for that day, be they revolutionaries, party members, shafiqistas, human rights activists, social rights activists, women’s rights activists, artists, non-affiliated Egyptians who are dissatisfied, whoever. Any person, any group that is seeing its interests, rights and freedom threatened by the current regime should mobilise their people and come down that day. I would have Hamdeen Sabahy and Mohamed ElBaradei each call on their supporters all over the country to protest in their governorates, and have them each lead a march of their supporters that day. I would have actors, musicians, writers, movie directors, journalists, celebrities and Twitteratis all call upon their friends, followers and fans and lead their own marches. Are you an ex-parliamentarian? Want to run for parliament again? Mobilise your voters and supporters and bring them. And we wouldn’t only go to Tahrir. It would be Tahrir, Maspero, Roxy, the presidential palace, any and every square in Cairo (the different locations will also give the different conflicting groups the chance to participate together without sharing the same space). And not only in Cairo, but also Alexandria, Upper Egypt, Qalyobeia, Sharqeya, Sinai. Wherever we can mobilise, we should. The more spread out the protests that day, the greater the impact.
And while it will be a day of no unified set of demands, the participants will be encouraged to come down with signs that highlight their personal demands or concerns, and to be dressed and look as diverse as they wish to be. And no party or group will try to claim the day for itself, because not only will they risk alienating the others who joined, they would be better suited politically to claim to be part of a greater undercurrent of dissatisfaction, one that could be very problematic for the ruling regime if it doesn’t get appeased, listened to or included.
What would it achieve? First of all it would return the fighting spirit to everyone mired in defeatism right now. It would show them that they are not alone, and that they are a force to be reckoned with regardless. Whether this could lead to a rejuvenation of the revolutionary movements or political parties remains to be seen, but it’s something that we all need right now. Secondly, it would show beyond a shadow of doubt that Egypt is home for a very different and diverse group of people, citizens who have rights and who will not give them up or have another faction of society sideline them or kick them out. Even if the Islamists countered with their own protest and managed to mobilise an equally impressive show of force, the point would still be made. We are here, we are not giving in that easily and we could really make your life difficult should you chose to make ours so.
I know that there will be those among you will scoff at the notion, or, overtaken by their sense of defeatism, will claim that it would not work and that people would not show up. Maybe they are right, but I am willing to bet they are wrong, for two reasons: everyone needs this more than they are willing to admit, and are just waiting for something tangible to join in order to vent their dissatisfaction; and the weather. Winter is coming, people, and our revolution is a winter revolution. It dies in the summer and heats up in the winter. Our past two winters have been insane with action, and something tells me that this winter will not be different; that it’s time for things to heat up once more around here.
Just think about it.