CAIRO: Thursday’s protest was, by all accounts, a protest about a protest about a protest. The demonstration raised a lot of questions that must be answered in order for the opposition to maintain a viable dissent movement. Thursday saw about 50 demonstrators move from the corniche in Garden City, next to the Four Seasons hotel, toward the Kasr El Nil police station next to the Indonesian embassy.
While activists continue to demonstrate on a weekly basis, it appears that the opposition is faltering in its continued dissent against the government. Thursday revealed that the aura of confusion is spreading across the country. Journalists, activists and even the government are unsure of anything at the present moment.
“We Egyptians still live under the rule that Nasser gave us, says Gamal Al Banna, a leading Islamic scholar and the brother of Hassan Al Banna, founder of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, referring to how Nasser had a stranglehold on public debate and criticism. “We, as a nation and people, are still trying to overcome his rule almost 40 years later.
“We live under the age of Nasser, which was full of mistakes so we have a long way to go, Al Banna continues.
Thursday was another example of this confusion, which Al Banna argues is a direct result of Nasser’s policies. Demonstrators took to the streets, only to be broken up moments later by plainclothes men carrying batons. A few were arrested and then released. An LA Times reporter was detained and had his camera destroyed for taking pictures of the incident in front of the Four Seasons hotel, according to activists at the protest.
In front of the Kasr El Nil police station journalists were being grabbed by the arm and were pushed back by the security. Each time they would say, “There is nothing to see here . it is forbidden. Reporters would respond that they have a right to be there, and “if there is nothing to see what is the problem?
One security official said that it was forbidden for coverage of the event because a permit had not been extracted from the proper ministry.
“There’s no permit for a protest today for the demonstrators. There is no permit for the coverage by reporters, the security official said.
“What are they doing here [is] trying to go against the government, said a passerby at a protest on May 11, in front of the Court of Cassation. “We just want to live in peace and live our lives.
The woman’s comments strike at the heart of the opposition. Like the woman, the chants directed at the security forces at many demonstrations do not give the masses the opportunity to respect the movement and sign up.
“I just work for the government . it is my job and I have no choice to be here so hopefully nothing will happen today . I don’t like being at protests because I don’t understand what is going on, says Ahmed, 21, one of the black clad riot soldiers that have come to mark demonstrations.
This underlines what Al Banna argues about Egyptian society. The confusion that exists is widespread, within the opposition, the government’s security and journalism. Nobody fully understands what is occurring in this country. Demonstration after demonstration has done little to chisel away the confusion, in fact it has only brought more.
“There is no more fear . people will not go back to their houses, says George Ishaq, a leader and coordinator of the opposition Kefaya movement. He repeats this at almost every demonstration, arguing that the number of demonstrators is increasing each day.
“They are showing they are making a difference… and that there is a greater vision of the future, he argues.
But where is the opposition heading? Was Thursday’s demonstration the last straw of the government, as Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a democracy advocate and head of the Ibn Khaldun center for human rights, argued, or is it in fact, the last breath of a fading opposition?
“[The government] is no longer concerned with public opinion, neither domestically or internationally, he continues. “It is in my opinion that [the government] is in its final stages of power and is consequently behaving in this sad way.
Over the course of the last six weeks, hundreds of demonstrators have been arrested, reports of torture and sexual abuse have tainted the government in the eyes of the opposition and much of the international community. Yet, the May 25 and June 1, demonstrations have been frequented by a far smaller number of people than previous demonstrations.
It appears that the opposition is in a state of disarray. As one reporter says, “the fight is between one part of society’s elite against another. However, one may look at the opposition, whether they find it useful or not, and these words seem to grasp the nature of dissent in Egypt. The lower, poorer classes, have continued to stay away from demonstrations, arguing that they don’t accomplish anything.
Without a combined effort from the Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition groups to educate the entire Egyptian society, Thursday’s demonstration will be a reminder that Egyptians don’t understand why there are people on the streets. The opposition cannot hope to gain strength without educating the populace better.
While it is obvious that the government’s security forces do not understand what is going on, neither does the opposition. Each faction, government and opposition has done a horrendous job at educating people on what is happening in this country.
“The corruption in every department of society is so horrible, Al Banna says. His words remind Egyptians that the opposition and the government have no place in society. Until one side decides to take the issues to the people, neither side will win and demonstrations ending in violence and detentions seem to be the likely outcome.