Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Protest Ascendant, Gamal Descendant?

The importance of what happened yesterday cannot be overstated. Defying a police ban after sunday's Ikhwan demonstration, Kifaya-organized demonstrations broke out in Cairo, Alexandria, and Mansoura. Kifaya's Cairo demonstration was prevented from marching to parliament, so protestors brandishing Kifaya's signature yellow sticker rerouted to the press syndicate. Police blocked Kifaya people from filling Manshiyya Square and confined them to the court steps, and then stepped aside as the square was taken over by a staged pro-Mubarak gathering (see this blogger for a beautiful account of the Kifaya demo). In Mansoura, NDP thugs attacked Kifaya demonstrators. General accounts can be found in the BBC and Reuters.

Brilliantly overturning all those tired assertions about the 'death of politics' and Egyptians' supposedly legendary 'apathy', the small clumps of demonstrators have breathed new life into Egypt's streets. It's too soon to herald a return to street politics; never underestimate the brutality of interior minister, city security directors, and police chiefs. But the important thing to note is that the costs of repression are escalating by the day. With all eyes on the region's corrupt, repressive elites, they are bound to think a million times before quashing protest in full view of the international media and the not inconsiderable pent-up wrath of their 'own' publics. I put it in quotes because I can't stomach the lie that we the people are tied to these thugs in any way. We didn't choose them, we don't want them, we sure as hell can't stand them, and we're trying hard to get rid of them.

The Christian Science Monitor should be commended for a fine story on why Arab democrats are anti-American policies, but not reflexively so. And a real political scientist, Mustafa Kamel El-Sayyid, bets on the persistence of Arab exceptionalism, a bet he says he'd be happy to lose.

As for the regime, NDP Secretary-General Safwat al-Sherif, a fossil from a putrid era, explains to us the importance of the 'preventative requirements' put in place for the presidential elections, "with the aim of immunizing this distinguished position from infiltration so that it reflects Egyptians' will and preserves its independence and capacities, without being indebted to money or external support." They don't lack for gall, these regime hacks.

A week after he announced that he has no presidential ambitions, the dull-eyed Gamal Mubarak has resurfaced in the government press, in his capacity as NDP bigwig and head of something called "The Future Generations Foundation" (his very own NGO, aren't we proud). For months the press hasn't reminded readers of Gamal's extracurricular interests; is this their way of "convincing" us he's out of the presidential running? Well I've got breaking news for them. Egyptians are nothing if not ultra-skeptical; we'll rest only when Gamal and his privileged friends go back to private life and submit to a thorough auditing of their finances, in line with one of my favorite Egyptian sayings: min ayn laka hadha? ("where the hell did you get that?").