Thursday, January 27, 2011

Days 2 and 3...Protests Continue!

Protests continue in Egypt, defying the authorities who vow to clamp down fiercely on any signs of protest. Protests continued yesterday, 26 January, despite the continued block on Twitter and what appears to be an intermittent block on Facebook and a steeped up presence of security forces throughout Cairo, Suez and other parts of the country. A third protestor reportedly died in Suez and angry protestors gathered at the morgue demanding his body, as they claimed that the protestor had been shot by police.

Clearer evidence of police abuses beginning on the 25th have surfaced. The Guardian reporter in Cairo was present in downtown Cairo in the late night of the 25th when protestors set fire to a police vehicle – or perhaps it is more accurate to state that the vehicle became inflamed, as the reporter has not stated that he saw protestors actually lighting it. Plain clothed security forces surrounded him and the others, beat them and hauled them into a police vehicle. They were detained for hours, and driven to a security forces headquarters in the desert. They were abused and cursed at, one protestor fell into a coma in the security van. For a live audio of the event, click here.

Apparently, this is a common response from the police in the face of protestors. They are beaten and then sent to the desert, sometimes robbed of all of their possessions and left there. There were unconfirmed reports of other similar incidents during the later part of the day, on the 25th.

The government itself is confirming that 860 people have been ‘rounded up’ by police, with at least a couple of hundred being released as of last night (on the 26th). So detentions have been much more widespread than what I reported in the entry yesterday.

Protestors are vowing not to stop, while the regime is vowing to clamp down on all dissent. They are now calling for an even larger day of demonstrations on Friday, following Friday’s prayer.

Now that it is clear that protests will not let up Western governments are beginning to change their tone. From the normal, “We hope that both parties will show restraint,” to “We urge the Egyptian government to allow the Egyptian people to express their will fully.” The US government, who confirmed its faith that the Egyptian government is stable on the afternoon of the 25th and that Mubarak remains a close ally in the region the following day, later that same day (on Wednesday) made an ‘about face’ and began calling on the Mubarak regime to quickly implement reforms.

We cheer on Egyptian protestors throughout the country and we hope that Friday brings a million to continue the momentum that Tunisians have generated!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Almasryeen! Almasryeen!

Yesterday, the 25th of January, stretching into the early morning was inspiring. Yes, Egyptians you have been inspired and you inspire. “The day of anger” became a day of love and hope and aspiration. A day of possibilities.

I followed the events all day, from the morning when the protests/marches began until the evening when demonstrations continued throughout Egypt, in Alexandria, Cairo, Mahalla, Mansoura. I followed on Facebook (“We are all Khaled Said”) and Twitter (3arabawy), as well as the Guardian and CNN for live updates.

In the morning marches the word was out that the Mubarak regime gave the unprecedented ‘go ahead’ to protestors, in the case of a restrain from vandalism. And marches spread and spread throughout Cairo – in Ramses, Nile Cornish, Bulaq, Mohandiseen, Dokki, Shobra, Dar El Salam. At one point thousands and thousands (an unconfirmed report of 20,000!) converged on Gamat Dowal Alarabiya Street in Mohandiseen. And more marchers converged, to convene at Tahrir, in front of the Parliament.

Outside of Cairo protests started early on in Assuit and Sinai. Then, later demonstrations exploded in Mahalla, Suez, Alexandria.

By mid-afternoon, when the police were “overwhelmed” by the numbers, minute by minute reports began to come out of ‘clashes’… The police began to use tear gas, rubber bullets. Protestors were trying to break down the police cordons and clashes ensued. Reports are that both police and protestors were throwing rocks. The police began to beat protestors, arrest them (it seems at least some of the arrests were selective, targeting public opposition figures and known activists).

And then the phone lines began to be cut. Twitter was down. Facebook stayed open all day and night, but I could no longer follow Twitter and I could not reach my friends by phone in Mounira/Dokki/AlMarg. The large group of protestors who convened at Tahrir by late afternoon confirmed that most phone lines were cut. TEData had cut Twitter – and until now there is no access.

Protestors began to tear down posters of Hosni Mubarak (in Mahalla and Alexandria) and advertisements for the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP)(in Cairo, near to the Parliament). Throughout the day people were sending in/posting videos caught by their mobiles of protestors chanting “Ra7l” like the protestors in Tunisia. “Out, Mubarak!” “Mesh 3ayzeen’ak (We don’t want you)!” As the international media began to get on the scene more of people’s voices were broadcast. The activist/blogger-reporters and the protestors alike were surprised by the showing. They were surprised that so many Egyptians came out to participate – young and middle aged and old, unemployed and employed, professional and working class.

A large group convened at Tahrir, vowing to take over the Parliament and then to stage a sit-in overnight. The reports that I read this morning (and video clips that I watched) were that in the early morning hours the police waged a massive clampdown with tear gas, in an effort to disperse the protestors. At this point it appears that Tahrir has been cleared, at least for the time being. And three people total are reported dead – two protestors and one police officer.

The day of demonstrations – the “day of the beginning of the revolution” – seems to be very well organized, largely through the social networking sites (Twitter and Facebook) a couple of weeks prior. It was non-violent on the part of protestors, and especially in the morning marches I saw families present – men and women with their children. And really throughout the day I read of people coming to the demonstrations with their parents, their children. It was not a day for and by “the young people” as Al Baradei claimed on CNN, but a day for and by THE PEOPLE. And there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that this protest was orchestrated by the Muslim Brotherhood, as the Mubarak Administration has claimed. The Brotherhood has even stated publicly that they would not actively participate.

And the organizers chose the 25th – Police Day – in a symbolic gesture: Will the police be on the side of Egyptians at this point in history as they were in 1951, when they defended Egyptians against the British?!

Like the protests in Tunisia, most pictures show middle age men – raising their voices, raising their fists, walking side by side, running through the streets. I felt such joy for these men, to be expressing their anger and frustrations in union, to take over public spaces that are so tightly controlled (even for just a bit), to run ‘freely’. It must have been an unforgettable day for them, a day of elation. Not just for these men, of course, but for all those who took part.

And all of us who support their demands we support that the protests continue. On and on and on until demands are met! We will do what we must do to support the aspirations and rights of Egyptians! Tell us how…

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Tunisians – You are for the world and with the world

There is a Hebrew proverb: “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.” I would add that in this era – of neoliberalism – of spiraling inequality, deteriorating and denying democratic orders, a global elite class ‘gone mad’, corporate reign – we may say that “Whoever revolts saves the world entire.”

Tunisians, for those who have risked your security and lives, you are acting for the world and with the world. You are an inspiration not just to the Arab world but to all of us who seek popular and just control over our political and social world.

As you are continuing to do, push on to end the dictatorship, to heal from the long and deep wounds of the dictatorial regime. Push on and on, keep making your demands heard, don’t let the revolution end here. And we, those of us ‘onlookers’, we will press the international community to support the popularly-demanded changes that the revolution calls for – not superficial measures like changing heads of seats that those ‘who fear’ desire.

And I urge Tunisians, not to separate the ‘political’ from the ‘economic’. This is a revolution not just about the human rights abuses and corruption of the Ben Ali regime; this is a revolution against a neoliberal order that is propping up these vary abuses – and is siphoning workers to the informal, deadening labor rights in all economic spheres, collapsing the productive capacities of countries to mere ‘extractive’ and export driven industries. This is about standing up against economic policies that the regime has backed with pressure and ‘support’ from the West.

Don’t make the same mistakes as the South Africans, the new leaders of the post-apartheid era who had spent a life time fighting against apartheid let their economic agenda fall away as they focused on a political agenda of fair elections, equal suffrage, full human rights. With ‘guidance’ from the international community, the leaders of the early post-apartheid era left in place constitutional provisions that made a redistributive program nearly impossible legally. Quickly the new South African government got pushed into an agenda of structural adjustments, and the decades and decades of an anti-apartheid struggle for redistributive justice became a lost dream.

The fact that three commissions have been formed in the Tunisia revolutionary transition and that all three are devoted to political and constitutional reforms (human rights, corruption, etc.) – is disconcerting. If the Tunisian government and people ‘in the making’ do not draw the connections between political and constitutional reforms and economic reforms, then indeed Western backing and meddling will continue as will deep disillusion.

In his Counterpunch article, Esam El-Amin only got it partially right: “The West’s Little Dictator” fully supported their Tunisian ally Ben Ali because he abided by their War on Terror and pro-Israel agenda, and more importantly, the Ben Ali regime complied with a neoliberal agenda of free trade, privatization, and liberalization that has directly benefited the Mafia regime. And as long as the new governing powers do not threaten this agenda, then the West will continue to back it and manipulate national policy in favor of it. Our common struggles must lie here, recognizing the intimate dance between economic, political and constitutional orders.