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Waiting in the Queue…

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Mahmoud Salem

Mahmoud Salem

We’ve been fighting for fifty years the same war, we can’t forget

And the country is like a waiting room,

And the queue reaches the airport

“From the Queue”,
By Mashrou’ Leila

………..
A picture of a wedding, where the bridesmaids are all wearing army fatigues, appears on your timeline. Another picture of a different married couple appears with the groom holding a sign bearing the “Rabaa” symbol and looking sad, while his bride is smiling behind him, holding a poster that says “CC” and a thumbs-up. During a conversation with a friend, who works in human rights, I was informed that the amount of violations against journalists since 30 June –whether arrests, attacks or fatalties – exceed those of the last three years combined. A news report was published on how the committee of the 10 constitutional experts, appointed by Interim President Adly Mansour, removed references of the 25 January revolution from the amended constitution, and left only that of 30 June.  This last piece of news confirms that we must be, truly, the descendents of Pharaohs, since, like them, we always try to erase the previous regime from our history, while repeating their same mistakes.
……….
All of this has happened before…
……….
Many people are complaining that the old regime is coming back, and citing the wave of attacks on some 25 January revolutionary symbols in the media as proof. This is not necessarily the case. Let’s look back and review: the centrists (kanaba or couch party) and the conservatives (Mubarak-regime supporters) believe that by participating in the 30 June protests, they were participating in a revolution that served two purposes: (1) bringing down the catastrophic MB regime, and (2) bringing stability to the country via revolutionary means. Naturally, they are filled with revolutionary fervour –excessive energy–that is very similar to what we had in 2011: they act empowered, pompous, fascist and exclusionary. If you were familiar with this phase in 2011, then you should know that this very fervour is the step just before disillusionment.

Also, like those of 25 January, the new revolutionaries are very big on punishing –and banishing from political life –anyone who ever supported the president they revolted against; hence, the attack on the revolutionary symbols that sold to the revolution voters the idea that Morsi, an Islamist conservative, is a revolutionary who shares our ideals of freedoms, rights, and views on equality. Sure, it was an insane time and they were facing an impossible choice, but they chose and promoted Morsi as the revolution’s candidate, and thus sold the revolution to him. Some of them, whether as a political reward for their support or as part of the “Morsi is a Revolutionary buy-in,” even became part of his regime until the constitutional referendum crisis: Ahmed Maher got appointed to the constituent assembly, Ahmed Seif (Mona Seif and Alaa Abdel Fatah’s father) was the first to be appointed by Morsi to head the military trials investigation committee, and later on was also appointed as a member of the Egyptian council for Human rights along with Wael Khalil, who was also appointed as Morsi’s advisor.

Whether this is fair or not, they called him the president of the revolution, and then complained that he stole it after they handed it to him, completely oblivious to the fact that when you sell someone something publically, you can’t claim later that he stole it. And now, the “new revolutionaries” are going after the “revolutionary symbols” as part of the inevitable witch-hunt campaign any revolution conducts against the deposed regime’s supporters and those who enabled it at any point. Worst of all, the defamation case against them as MB 5th columnists is easy.

Those symbols were for the disenfranchisement of the NDP in 2011 and refused the idea of reconciliation; but after 30 June, those same people who opposed, from day one, the disenfranchisement of the MB, called for immediate reconciliation. They are the same people who brought Morsi to power or promoted him, despite knowing better, as a revolutionary, as opposed to the rest of us who boycotted and invalidated him and faced attacks from MB supporters who called us “secret Shafiqistas” and “feloul.”Apart from the individuals, there are political groups such as the Trotskyite “Revolutionary Socialists” and the liberal “6th of April movement” who heavily promoted Morsi during the second round of the presidential elections, and were the first to criticise 30 June supporters for acting exactly the same way they acted in 2011. Their position is perfectly understandable if you have context. We should have an ability to comprehend nuances and to accept the possibility that people can change their minds and learn from their mistakes; but for the general population, they are MB lovers or sympathisers, army haters, selective defenders of human rights, opposed to state violence but not critical of individual violence, and what’s even worse, they don’t do anything but issue statements.

They didn’t propose any actual workable solutions, unify for a common purpose, work on increasing their popularity nor connect with people in the street. Three years of revolution and not a single structured, tangible achievement or victory or grassroots support. So for the general population, it’s easy to hate and vilify them, and don’t particularly mind if the police and the army, who are “pro” this revolution,to go after them. If you believe in Karmic retribution, it makes perfect sense: We,the 25 January revolutionaries, didn’t care for Mubarak or his people’s personal rights; many of us were even calling for their hanging in a public square without a trial. We weren’t horrified by many of the news stories that were obviously based on rumours and false information about Mubarak and his people, even when we suspected it, because it served our cause and purpose, and now we complain when the news does the same thing against the MB or the aforementioned revolutionary symbols. ONTV’s coverage didn’t get worse, by the way, they are still “the revolution’s channel,” but it’s simply a different revolution. We are equally fascist, but we didn’t have the army going after those we wanted it to. Now, it’s Morsi and his people drinking from that same cup  Mubarak and the NDP drank from, but on a much larger scale, and with broader support. We refuse to admit to any of this, or acknowledge that this has all happened before, and that everything that is happening is a copy of our sins in 2011 and 2012. Like everyone else in this country, we don’t like to admit our mistakes.
………………..
Delga:  A city of 120,000 people, 20,000 of whom are Christians, ruled by Islamists by force for the past two and a half months, during which Churches were burned, Christians were killed,  many of whom have also had their homes and small businesses attacked, set on fire and looted, all in the name of supporting Morsi. Forty families have fled the city since the violence started, but many of those who remained have been forced to bribe Islamists to protect them from, well, other Islamists. They have been crying for help to the security forces for the past two and a half months, but have just received protection a couple of days ago; no one knows if the security forces will stay there or can resolve the problem, since the Islamists in Delga are large families and tribes, and the security forces can’t kill or lock up entire tribes.

The blood that got spilled there will not bother the MB leaders, the same way the blood of their supporters didn’t bother them, because they don’t view themselves in any way responsible for it. I guess it’s much easier for the leadership to build epic stories of resistance and solidarity on the blood of those who died in Rabaa, than to admit that they betrayed the 25 January Revolution, or that they made catastrophic governing and political decisions, or to take any responsibility for the actions of their supporters.  For the MB defending legitimacy and democratic values come in the form of Coptic blood, and a number of protesters holding a four-fingered yellow sign.

The Rabaa protesters movement is a curious thing, mainly because it became an end to itself; the MB’s attempt to hide their movement behind a symbol of a massacre may get them sympathy for those who died, but it in no way serves or advances their true goal of getting back into power. The Rabaa movement can’t evolve into an opposition movement because it can’t get past the Rabaa disbursement, which can be easily addressed by those in power by launching an investigation committee and handing down a few convictions. Then what? Any alliance or reconciliation with any 25 January force they would hope to build has to be based on the price of the MB leadership’s contrition first, which won’t happen.  They went from “we will kill anyone who opposes us” to “where is your humanity and conscience?” while conveniently skipping the crucial “we made a mistake” part, because they don’t want to address their betrayal. They hope the population will eventually forget.

Maybe they have a point: every night on my way home I see the graffiti of Al Hosseiny Abu Deif – who was killed by the MB in Itihadeya protests last November – on a wall in Abbaseya, and next to his face the words “blood for blood” written in red. No one mentions him anymore, not even his comrades. But that graffiti remains all over the walls of Cairo. Cities have long memories, and our city forgets nothing.
………..………..
We’re fed up with religion,

Tired of humiliation,

Aching for hunger,

And our tongues are sharp

“From the Queue”, by Mashrou’ Leila
……………..
The “returning” police state is an illusion; the police can’t even protect their own stations. Anyone can see that there is no state, only people who believe they have power, enforceable by guns, against a population that is hungry, armed, and has grown desensitised from violence amidst an economic situation that borders on catastrophic. Throw Islamists in the mix, a military curfew that just got extended for two more months, vanishing tourism for the third year running, and the financial and economic repercussions of the “war on terror,” and anyone can tell you that this won’t end well economically. On a separate but related note, locally manufactured cigarettes are already disappearing and reappearing in the black market.
…………
Every activist I know fears the return of the police state. Every non-activist I know is wondering where the police are.
…………
I fully understand why ElBaradei resigned, and I respect his reasons, but I can’t shake the notion that what he did is not much unlike that guy who dumped his girlfriend the moment she got pregnant.
…………
The other illusion is the return of Mubarak’s “feloul” to power, which won’t happen. You see, the businessmen feloul, the face of the NDP for years, will not be able to take over this time, because at the end of the day they are not “true feloul,” but rather, the elites who utilised the NDP for power and  were used by the NDP political leadership as a front. They were in power because the NDP leadership forced them upon local leaders, had them run for office in areas where they could never win on their own; if you followed the parliamentary elections of 2005 and 2010, it already wasn’t working, with the NDP sometimes fielding four candidates against each other in every district. This used to happen when the NDP was in full operation, with a politburo and a state behind it. Now, there is no politburo, no party, no leadership or symbols, with every man for himself, and the “true feloul,” the drug dealers, arms traders and big family criminals who have armed gangs, are about to become the true rulers of the country,  since they will be the only force capable of ruling the streets that are void of state control. Only the most brutal of them will end up winning a parliamentary seat in a full individual seat election. Okasha ruling Egypt. Imagine.

So, can those “soon-to-be-elected parliamentarians” discuss complex economic policies or debate foreign policy decisions? Not Likely. Can the same people who thrive in state corruption engage in any real reform of the state? No. Do they have the minds to actually get this country up and running? Nope. Can this country get on its feet without the nascent corruption in the government being actively and methodically reduced? Not a chance. Will they try anyway? Unlikely, since in that event, we will see the deep state at war with itself at a time where everyone wants it to be united. They are doomed if they don’t attempt serious reform, and doomed if they do, with the backdrop of 90 million hungry, impatient citizens. Feeling hopeful for the future, aren’t you?

In other news, Okasha – Feluol national hero and a force behind June 30 – just had his TV station shut down last week by the government, curiously after spending a week attacking 25 January politicians and Al-Sisi for not locking those fifth columnists up. Not a peep from his supporters over his station getting shutdown. I guess even this revolution eats its children.
……
Qatar is attacking 30 June using Al-Jazeera. The interim government countered by hiring the barely functional Hazem El-Beblawi as our prime minister, who is 39 years older than the state of Qatar. That will show them.
……
All of this has happened before. All of this will happen again.
…….
Let me give you a glimpse of the future.

The next parliament will be even worse than the 2012 one, with Egypt finally taking a good look at its local leaders, one without the political elites that entered the previous parliament and made electoral lists look good. The next president will either be Al-Sisi or someone backed by him, after all he’s Egypt’s new King Maker. The next government will get its chance and will fail miserably, because bad economic conditions plus corruption minus the real will to reform creates an equation for economic and political disaster. With no policies or political leadership in its legislative branch, the newly formed state will suffer disintegration that will rival 2010’s. It will all happen very quickly, naturally, because we don’t have any safety nets anymore, and the waste we have in the government due to our exceptional corruption is simply unsustainable.

While the Mubarak-regime supporters are popular right now, please keep in mind that it’s because people, after Morsi’s year of government, believe that Mubarak supporters know how to work this  unmanageable machine called the Egyptian government, conveniently forgetting that those same people’s failure in running this defunct machine brought about the 2011 revolution in the first place. Oh well, they will get a reminder soon enough, and this time’s failure will end the myth of of their abilities once and for all, which, in turn, will end them as a political force for a while.

The disintegration of the state will lead to the rise of “local leadership” as a street stabilising force, which means that our streets will be gang-controlled. The state’s ability to provide security in such conditions will become rather limited or, to be more accurate, impossible. The bad security will lead to a worse economy, which means that the corrupt government officials will become more vicious with their bribe demands, which would serve as their source of income, as their actual one begins drying up. Infighting will ensue amongst different branches of the government over patronage, because a contracting economy will equal less stealing, and consequently, more ruthless infighting.

Parliament and Government will prove such a failure, that they will not be able to provide the political cover the military needs and stability it wants. Naturally, the military will start to get demands from the population to remove this government. Again.  It also wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility to then see massive demonstrations demanding the end of democracy and having the military be in complete and full control, since the population is sick of “inept politicians,” and the military is the only branch of the government that actually delivers on its promises to them. If the military suffers from temporary mental insanity and decides to take over in a full-open-upfront-military-government-fashion, they will find themselves directly responsible for providing the population with its gas and food needs, and every other need the citizens of a country with Egypt’s poverty rate and population will have. The inevitable conclusion? The depletion of military reserve resources will ensue, along with the destruction of the military’s reputation as the people’s saviour, which is why it’s highly unlikely for them to go this route. Therefore they will need to not be in the forefront and bring in another political front to handle civilian affairs. Who will it be? Or rather, who is still left?

The Mubarak Regime? Nope. The Islamists? Ha!

25 January  will be all that’s left. Whatever will be left of its politicians by that time anyway.
Negotiations will ensue. Real concessions regarding the state and limits of military power will have to be made this time, not because they want to, but because they will have to:  no one will take it otherwise. Time-table for all of this? Three years.

I could be wrong. Maybe a miracle will happen, and the decaying state will somehow become a lean, mean efficient machine, and with it the police state. Maybe I could be that much closer to the gulag or the guillotine than I currently believe any of us are. While I seriously doubt that the security apparatus would attempt something that stupid, if it does happen, somehow, that doesn’t bother me that much. We started a revolution in 2011, and we didn’t succeed. Those who attempt failed revolutions usually end up imprisoned or dying or in exile. Those are the rules and they are fair. No point in whining about it.

But if I am right, and this whole escapade takes place, then within the next three years 25 January will finally be given its first real and fair chance. Although at that point, I am not sure any of us would want it. Another three years? We are already drained and depleted from all of the fighting of the past three years. The security forces wouldn’t need to crush us now; the Muslim Brotherhood took all that was left in us after the military and Mubarak. Everybody took a turn crushing us, hence why we helped set 30 June in motion: deflection. Everyone who got us into this mess are now fighting each other because of  it: MB vs. the Police, Army vs. Islamists, Feloul vs. Revolutionary symbols, Feloul vs. Feloul, etc. In a weird way it’s the perfect revenge, and the best way to teach the country the lesson that we all refuse to learn so far; we won’t get anywhere until we respect each other and work together. No matter how connected, armed, organised or well-funded a group or camp may be, Egypt is simply too big for them to control alone. One day it will sink in finally, because – after all the previous and coming years of chaos – there is one truth we can all agree on: We all need a better life that this one.
……..
It’s like I know this place, 
But I’m in the wrong time
It’s like I know I’m here, 
But they’ve forgotten that it’s today

“From the Queue”
By Mashrou’ Leila

About the author

Mahmoud Salem

Mahmoud Salem

Mahmoud Salem is a political activist, writer, and social media consultant. His writings could be found at www.sandmonkey.org and follow him @sandmonkey on Twitter

  • sam enslow

    What I fear most is the coming revolt of the hungry and hopeless. People forget that the youth who went to Tahrir on 25 January expected to die. They did not mind. They felt they were already dead. The biggest threat to any force is a group that has nothing to lose. These same youths are now in worse shape than when they first mached – many more have joined their numbers.
    There are ways out, but I doubt they will be taken. It is easier to blame others and, on a temporary basis, make freinds with any nation that will put money into Egypt’s beggar’s cup. It is easier to have a press that serves as press agents for whoever is their paymaster for the moment than to have journalists that inform the public and challenge official thinking. Sweep problems under the rug or blame Obama or Isreal, and the problem is solved. It is of no importance that stomachs are still empty, kids still uneducated. “We are playing politics.”
    There is a money pot of about US$ One Trillion (no typo, Trillion) some of which could be invested in Egypt. It is held by US international companies in off shore accounts looking for places to be invested. The companies include names like Apple and Cisco, but covering almost every part of a nation’s economy. These companies might consider investing in Egypt and in providing real jobs with real pay to Egyptians. They will do this to make a profit – not as a gift, loan, but as a business deal. They are not interested in running from office to office filling out forms and paying sweets or in hiring a big man’s son because he is a big man’s son, or in paying sweets, or engaging in any fun and games. They would hire and promote on merit. But no one in Egypt thinks about this or talks to these companies about what they would require. They will require the same things any Egyptian or other nations company will require before investing in Egypt. The US petroleum company, Apache, just sold its stake in Egypt to China. It tired of the games and sectarian hatreds (Sunni workers did not want to work with Shia workers).
    I frequently travel from Alexandria to Istanbul. Alex should be what Istanbul is. It was once, Alexandria the cosmopolitan city, the rich city. So was Cairo. Over the years, I have seen opportunities for Egyptians to make fortunes only to have them end in nothing due to government red tape and corruption – and not just at the highest levels.
    Egypt’s leaders need to point to the future and stop worrying about the past. You can do nothing about the past. The future only is yours. Mistakes will be made. Do not cover them up or blame others. See what is wrong and correct the mistake. Free and develop the minds of Egyptians. Earn the respect you crave and the bread you eat.

  • AzzaSedky

    God, what a destructive bleak picture. Give us a break, a chance to dream. You have basically turned our dreams into nightmares.
    No, I don’t think things will improve immediately, but what you are saying is that they will never ever improve. We do have some strong and intelligent folks out there who may make a difference.
    If this is the case, then the blame falls on everyone including you. You are simply putting blame on others and not doing much yourself.

    • sam enslow

      Dreams are the curse of Egyptians who refuse to do the work, real work, and planning to make them come true.

  • Scotty

    I sincerely hope for Egypt that such a worst case scenario will never materialize. Usually what happens will be a kind of chaotic mixture of good and bad and endless misery. IMHO, however, what you are overestimating is the ability of the Egyptian people to form a strong civilian citizen base for democracy. Remember how the people in the countryside were shocked to watch what the so-called activists did to Mubarak in 2011? Egypt has a few intelligent folks, but those are far too few to compensate 40 millions of illiterates, who have no clue what democracy means. Those do not even value democracy. They would throw their support instantly behind a strong Pharaoh who gives them bread and decent living. Democracy is not on their menu. Regardless what the few educated ones imagine, Egypt will only succeed once a benign ruler emerges, who rules with an iron fist, but fair and honest to all Egyptians.

  • Reda Sobky

    We are all hoping that your generation will step in and change the dynamic from the usual zero sum game of power to a dynamic working culture. I know the past has been disappointing but why does the future have to be so morbid. Is there no room for learning? and generational progression? Things seem to change here in the USA very quickly when it is ripe. Maybe there is now a deep seated apprehension that change is needed for survival as things are too broken to function. Is it not possible that the new constitution would reflect the collective genius of these well chosen fifty and for once we could actually have a system and a document to work with. I think the biggest problem is the old fogies holding onto power. It feels like the younger the person the more clear headed they seem and the less power they have. Maybe every institution in Egypt needs to have an under 35 council to see beyond the next few years which is the usual time horizon of the over 70 crowd. I think most people over sixty in Egypt are obstructed by their “mafish faydah” and we need some can do types from a younger group. How about Hegazi for president and you for chief motivator because i know deep down in the depths of your soul there is still a positive scenario imaginable-try to retrieve it. This is the best piece so far in your commentaries, best wishes.

    • Ogmius

      I entirely agree with you. Jan 25 was brought about by the youth of Egypt: they were smart, organised, and inspiring. But when it came to rebuilding the institutions of state, and achieving consensus, they were like the Cheshire cat, seemingly inactive to the point of invisibility. It didn’t have to be a choice between Morsi and Shafiq. But not only did it become such a binary, but the youth movements threw their weight behind Morsi when they signed the infamous “Fairmont Agreement”. I tend to agree with Sandmonkey’s analysis: the moment has passed, and the youth activists are going to find themselves under even greater pressure than under Mubarak’s rule. First they came for the men with beards, and I did not speak out for I don’t wear a beard; then they came for the journalists and bloggers, but I didn’t speak out because I do not write; then they came for the youth activists, but I did not speak because I am old; and then they came for me …..and there was no one left to speak for me.

  • MegRyan

    I have to agree with you. It is bleak and if you look to history and your region you probably will be the next Somalia. This is what people (that is the majority) raised on an ideology of hate reap – death and destruction. When you blame others ie Israel, jews, captialists etc. for your problems you only end up mean and hungry. I wish it weren’t so.

  • Amr Fahmy

    A little more or actually much more optimism would be preferable Mahmoud, you’re among what appeared at then end a minority of real seculars without agendas during that Jan25 uprising which in my opinion was used to set the long prepared succession of Mubarak by the Bearded in suits,unfortunate that’s how I see it
    Many doubted that our generation and even the next would ever be able to be rid of them,We all heard General El Sissy say they told him they were here to stay 500 years and I believe him,as a matter of fact one of their ex Morshid said years ago that if they ever reach power they will never relinquish it,
    So I Thank God that they are gone
    Now it’s a chance to build a new Egypt,secular and free,it’s normal that many people are angry with the so called jan25 activist as they feel that the mess we are in was caused by them either naively or for some purposely, and I think both are true
    There is no return to the Mubarak regime,that’s another myth,what happened June30 was a real grassroots revolution unlike Jan25 but in order to progress to reach the idealism that some of the jan25 folks had,we need solid state and a union, better economy and wealth distribution that is more or less fair or almost
    Political Islam is defunt or about to be and for me thata major victory as it had been a dormant virus in Egyptian society since 50 years

    Again optimism,revolutions take time,you need to have the majority of that land believe in your ideals and let us all move forward

    • sam enslow

      There is no time. The hungry care not for anything but getting food and cloths and a place to sleep. They do not feel a part of Egypt. “I love Egypt, but Egypt doesn’t love me.” Egypt has rejected them. Egyptian mothers want gandchildren. They seem not care what will happen to them after they are born.
      Sectarian hatreds have existed for centuries in Egypt. Now, and I mean today, is the time for the clerics of all faiths to reach out to each other and work together to end this stupidity which is destroying not only Egypt but all of the Middle East. Those who remain silent or blame only the other side are as guilty as those who commit the crimes.


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