By Omar El Sabh
After December’s brutal crackdown on protestors near the Cabinet building by military forces, some are taking it upon themselves to deliver the message to those who are unaware of the infamy that took place at the time.
The recent 3askarKazeboon (The Military are Liars, also known as Kazeboun) campaign has attracted much attention from pro democracy and human rights voices on the blogosphere, streets, squares and thoroughfares of Egypt. Aside from its main goal to expose the military generals’ atrocities, it also implicitly highlights the importance of public space and its usage to voice political dissent. In the current political context, the campaign stresses that it is bringing alternative media to citizens who are only touched by the poisonous tentacles of state media and popular uninformed discourse on the events that took place there.
Their mission is simple and easy to carry out: all you need is a projector, a screen and the trove of videos, graffiti stencil models and pictures of human rights abuses that the campaign has made readily accessible to anyone. All that remains is to hype the event on Twitter and Facebook.
The campaign boasts being a completely decentralized movement with no hierarchy, placing the brunt of the job on indignant citizens who can independently host a screening of military atrocities under their house or at their neighborhood cafes and gardens. In their “famous disclaimer”, as they Tweet over and over, they remind the blogosphere that “the campaign has no coordinators, it is public property and anyone has the right to display a screening without having recourse to anyone (from the campaign)…Alternative popular media.”
Usually the event starts out with a screening of the videos followed by marches that go through many streets and squares. Citizens hold pictures; distribute stickers of the campaign’s website and flyers to bystanders and passing cars and pedestrians; this is usually accompanied by conversations and debate with skeptical and curious citizens.
The campaign has penetrated the entire country, with remarkable speed and frequency of marches and screenings, sometimes one day can host as many as four different dispersed events. Events have even reached the far flung corners of Cairo, in the fifth district of New Cairo and Sixth of October.
What is fascinating about this campaign is that it represents several lessons learnt by the revolutionary force on the ground, and poses a considerable threat to the military generals who are uncomfortable in their boots with those pesky protests and marches as many analysts and activists are arguing. The lessons learnt are embodied in the decentralization of the campaign. Due to the fact that the popular image of Tahrir is tied with negative connotations in the minds of an overwhelming sector of Egyptian society, this move to bring alternative, independent media to popular districts and other Egyptian cities represents this revolutionary progression.
The Generals’ hands are tied as they know that they will not be able to crack down on those marches and congregations as the Mubarak regime comfortably did. This difference in the state’s response towards those protests is embodied in the ramifications that ‘cracking down’ would entail. More specifically, the Generals and security apparatus would be unable to quell the sheer number of Kazeboun events, and at the same time they would face stronger and harsher criticism, than they already do, in the independent media, press and social media platforms. Simply put, SCAF can’t afford to thwart this popular campaign, much to their chagrin.
However, this campaign hasn’t been met with flowers and cheers all the time in the streets and it is simple to see why.
In an article in Al Shorouk, managing editor Wael Kandil wrote that SCAF have reopened a “volunteer organization” to protect public property from chaos and destruction in preparation for the upcoming January 25 protests. “If this news is true,” writes Kandil, “then we would have reintroduced the mindset that produced the ‘battle of the Camel’.”
In other words, SCAF knows that it is facing a considerable amount of popular discontent and is ready to ask for support from what it has repeatedly called “honorable citizens”, those who have been affected by state media rhetoric and are convinced that these ‘Tahrir hippies’ and SCAF-haters are funded by foreign entities and aim to wreak havoc in the country.
Aside from this extremely worrying sign of desperation by the Generals, who want to thwart any anti-SCAF dissent, there has been some show of discontent, sometimes violence, by people who espouse a ‘pro-SCAF’ mentality. A recent blog post by journalist Sarah Carr shows just how far the pro-SCAF mentality is engrained in the minds of many who are disenfranchised and fed up with the “foreign funded” havoc wreakers that go to Tahrir. They are ready to attack any ‘foreign funded traitors’ as Carr demonstrates in her experience in one of the Kazeboun events.
These signs represent the growing rift, which is taking place on the ground and in the public discourse, between those who see stability and security as tantamount to SCAF’s holdover power and those who create and participate in events such as Kazeboun, No Military Trials, April 8th Movement, and anti SCAF revolutionary activities and protests in general.
Nonetheless, the poignancy of the effect and ingenuity of 3askarkazeboon is in the campaign’s understanding of a holy trinity that’s very relevant to social movements in general and the current political context in Egypt: the use of public space, decentralization and absence of hierarchy over the organizational structure and finally a strong attempt to bring alternative media to a large audience, who have been either affected by pro-SCAF state media or are simply unaware, apathetic or disenfranchised citizens.
However, it is not the first time that SCAF has demonstrated its duplicity to gloss over its ‘mistakes’. We know that military personnel (and not the notorious Central Security Forces) have cracked down so many times on Tahrir sit-ins and shown us a glimpse of their lack of professionalism and outright disregard for human rights and the dignity of Egyptians. The examples are many: virginity tests carried out by military police, the brutal dispersal of the July Tahrir sit-in; the torture victims during the Mohamed Mahmoud five-day crackdown whose testimonies were filmed by Mosireen group.
But we never saw, until recently, a large scale brutal crackdown that attracted so much attention in Egypt as well as internationally. The Generals are Kazeboun…