Monday, March 21, 2011

How a Democratic Referendum Toppled a Revolution

The international media was determined to coin #Jan25 a #facebook revolution at its inception. Following the first mobilization of people on January 25th, it seems that the Egyptian government also bought the idea that it was indeed a #facebook revolution and immediately retaliated by first blocking social networking sites like #twitter and #facebook. When people started using proxies they pulled the plug on the internet. To the surprise of the #Egyptian government more and more people were mobilized, because for years the barrier of fear was slowly, but surely being chipped away, building up to an unstoppable momentum that nearly brought an end to the old regime.

The first cracks of Egypt's barrier of fear started when images of the atrocities committed by Egypt's State security started circulating over the internet, not to mention the reports by human rights organizations, complaints and calls by human rights lawyers for prosecution of those responsible for brutal acts of torture. Finally the strongest power wielded by state security in its ability to remain a hidden and invisible hand was slowly being eroded. The power of surveillance was no longer unidirectional, while the state watched the people, the people finally had the tools to watch the state. Egypt's most ominous institution was now under surveillance. The people's fear barrier surrounding the omnipotent, omniscient institution was starting to crack. Instead of focusing on their fear, people started feeling a sense of anger, indignation at the complete absence and disregard to human dignity that accompanied every interaction with the state's hidden eye and hand of discipline. The man inside the panopticon was no longer a mystery and so the panopticon started to collapse and with it people's fear.

People's hatred for #Egypt's state security apparatus's back-handed brutal methods of maintaining order and stability for the old regime combined with the cracks in the fear barrier became one of the main reasons millions of people were mobilized; calling to an end to regime sponsored brutality and fear production. For awhile, the people became the experts, they knew how to run things, how to maintain safety, how to maintain a semblance of stability for the long-awaited purging of the system, the people had a political vision where human dignity and freedom were at their very core.

Shortly following Mubarak's fall people slowly started giving their new-found power away to experts that told them what the economy was and how it had to be handled, to public figures who told them what needed to be done next and to an army that operated within a black-box to rebuild a nation, while it simultaneously detained, brutally tortured and fabricated charges against those who opposed it. The very core value of human freedom of expression and dignity was slowly becoming eradicated, instead of the eradication of the institutions that were trampling all over these values.

Then came the referendum, while torture and a complete disregard for human life were occurring simultaneously. The revolution quickly transformed into the long and hopeful road of reform. Did we forget why we mobilized in the first place? Was this a case of mass collective amnesia? Did "no" or "yes" really matter? If the same structures of fear and intimidation were still there? What were we reforming, it wasn't the systematic, ongoing torture and intimidation by institutions of the state? That wasn't getting reformed. While "yes" and "no" have their implications, that I am not denying, their implications for changing the very basis of which the state interacts with its subjects in terms of human freedom, dignity and respect is irrelevant. What were we reforming? A constitution that was rendered illegitimate by a revolution? Then why were we reforming it?
When we start to reform and when we start to rebuild we also stop revolting. When we call for reform, we are also saying that what millions fought against has been eradicated, that state sponsored illegal violence was eradicated. Well, if you haven't figured it out it hasn't. The panopticon's hidden surveillance and discipline that thousands have fought so hard to bring down is slowly being reinstated by the army and other institutions. No matter what the outcome of the referendum was we are still ruled by institutions that show no restraint in using illegal, brutal violence and humiliation against its subjects, while 25 million people rush to have their voices heard.
Those of you who have been celebrating the democracy of the referendum need to understand that that this democracy is deeply rooted in an acceptance of the complete disregard to basic human rights.

This post was theoretically inspired by Foucault and Certeau and the content was inspired by conversation (some via social networking) with @sumayaholdijk, @nevsh @bassemkhalifa @fazerofthenight, @yasminb, Aya Sheikhany, Hala Said and Amr Azim

I want to make it clear that I strongly condemn
's stance on refusing to post the videos, pictures and testimonies of those tortured by the army on We Are All Khaled Said . Are those tortured by the Army not #KhaledSaid ??

I also want to add that I disagree with @sandmonkey's opinion concerning torture in his blog post playing politics

While most people were concerned with the outcomes of the referendum, @3arabawy continued to address the issue of torture in his tweets and blogpost

I believe that I speak for all of us who of us who care about freedom and human dignity when I say that we are indebted to the brave people who gave testimonies of their detention and torture and those who collect these stories. Without them this dismantling of the barrier of fear would have no chance.
Testimonies of Torture by Army in English

I also don't necessarily think that the revolution has been entirely toppled thanks to #workers, the title is just for dramatic purposes


  1. Simply an amazing piece. I also disagree with Sandmonkey's Playing politics for his unrealistic plan that is suitable for a long term road map rather than an immediate and relevant steps on the ground. I salute your analysis and focus on the basics of The Egyptian revolution especially human rights and torture issues which in mind are not important, they are a top priority. To my mind we should have not have left the streets without these issues resolved or we should have returned back with news and plethora of testimonies confirming the poor human right record of the army and its involvement in torturing Egyptians. My question is simply why did not we? why did Egyptians tolerate these repulsive acts from the army? why did people forget what they fought for? Did the Egyptian martyrs payed their lives in vein because their predecessors could not carry on? why did people allow the army to drag us into a battlefield we have minimal chance to win-the referendum? Why did my friends and colleagues in Egypt complain about the security status and not being able to send their children to schools while our western neighbors are being slaughtered?
    What is the problem with the Egyptian weave? sense of pride and national sentiment? How could a group of Egyptians betray the whole nation by siding with its gladiator? How selfish was the Egyptian inventors when they preferred to destroy their invention rather than share it with those who will manufacture and nurture it and deliver for the rest of us?
    What is the problem with Egyptians?

  2. As a skeptic, there was a split second yesterday when I saw people seriously reflecting about the hazeema yesterday. I hoped for a single minute that more thoughtful and mature discourse would follow.

    But then today, one of your bloggers posted this true tesitmony of "freedom":

    And suddenly, all the boys are energized again... Let's call all of the TV stations in town and abroad to see which worthless reporter would pick up the story. Lets spend hours on twitter and facebook.

    My question is: WHAT IS IT THAT YOU WANT?

    Does every kid who doesn't like his/her curriculum or lunch cafteria have the right to replace the university's entire management board? Given EL MUSEEBA that happened yesterday, do you think that this is the best use of your time when you'll face the voters again in September?

    Better still, do you see the Ikhwan's leaders wasting their time with such hayafa and nonsense?

    I am simply SPEECHLESS! What the *hell* did they teach you in the Ivory Towers????????

    You have effectively turned the country over to the Ikhwan with some minor role for former NDP elements. Let's face it, some may have put their lot in with the NDP simply for personal gain. But once the NDP has been weakened and discredited, those leeches will simply turn to new hosts. Nobody will sacrifice their life for the NDP. But they would do so to protect their "reiligious honor."

    I thought for a split second yesterday that "El 3eyal Kiberit" .... but I'm still waiting to see any firm evidence of that....

  3. Sorry, now that I've gotten that off my chest let me be more constructive.

    "True revolutions" like Iran 1979, Russia 1917, or possibly Libya, 2011 *generally* require the disintegration of the *entire* political order. In Egypt's case, that would also mean the disintegration of the army.

    To accomplish this you would have had to directly challenge the military in the streets and the resulting bloodshed would have far exceeded what we have witnessed so far.

    Somehow, I don't believe the Egyptian people as a *whole* were ready to sacrifice their lives and the lives of their loved ones for this "revolution."

    But there were other choices besides "all out revolution" that could still significantly improve society (more accountable public officials, limits on presidential powers, etc etc).

    You guys are in the big leagues now and you have to think like adults and businessmen. The army has some "legitimate" interests to protect as well. In a perfect society, we wouldn't be comformatble with the military owning so many businesses. But is there a "compromise" where the civilian side has some flexibility here?

    My suspicion is that this is exactly how the Ikhwan approached it. Even though they sufferred, under the last regime, they were willing to be pragamatic rather than idealistic.

    You guys, on the other hand, got sidetracked with slogans and personalities. You spent so much time shouting down Ahmad Shafiq when he was out the door sooner or later! Given the bigger picture, did it really matter if he "symbolically" ran the govt for 3 months insterad of 6 or 7 until the next election? And I say symbolic because it is really the *miliary* running the show, whether Ahmad Shafiq or Essam Sharif is the public face!

    Guys, you got distracted to the point that you didn't focus on what was really more important. And that was the rushed timetables which gave the Ikhwan and what's left of the NDP natural advantages. By the time you started making this a central demand it was too late.

    Look, that's all history now. My thoughts are this:

    Why not try to build a relationship with the military leaders? Rather than shouting from TS and confronting them, why not offer to work with them as partners and show them that you are pragamtic and are willing to consider their *own* interests as well. If there are people in jail, try to say that there was a miscommunication and offer to help resolve the situation.

    While the Ikwhan's tactics won them a landslide, I am sure that some people in the military felt threatened by how deceptively they could wield religion as a weapon. In the future, that weapon could be turned on the military themselves.

    And so you have an opening to demonstrate to the military that you could be more trust worthy and less threatening partners than the Ikhwan.

    But going this route means that you must be prepared to accept less than optimal outcomes and be willing to negotiate away some utopian principle for the practical and the possible. And you must not allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good (all or nothing).

    Or, you can keep fighting the same idealist battles you've fighting. The choice is YOUR'S!

  4. Amr: Check my post on how to tell the difference between a counter-revolution and a butt-hole its will address a lot of the questions and points that you raised in your comments.
    Aziza: I actually received two comments from you one which I'm assuming you've probably deleted because I don't see on my blog. I"m glad you've brought the issues you had, b/c I honestly appreciate a dialogue that makes me think about what I say. Though I must say I was much more comfortable about addressing the comments that were removed than this set of comments. I guess partly because there' not much to address to this. So my response will also be to your removed comments.
    I'm not sure what you think I'm calling for with this post. But to be clear I'm not calling for a Utopia when I call for addressing torture that is currently happen and when I am pointing to the fact that torture and state-sponsored violence which are at the very root of what that sparked #Jan25 have not been addressed. It is not an Utopia when we address torture, and its not a Utopia when we call for accountability from those institutions that feel they have the right to perform such horrific acts of torture. I don't see this a Utopia and I see that there is no basis for democracy without respecting human dignity. Although, I don't address this directly in this post but I have voiced this opinion in previous posts; I also don't believe that we can a democracy without socioeconomic justice. So while the revolution was for a shift from dictatorship to democracy if the tools of dictatorship are not challenged then there is little we can do for democracy. While Mubarak was a very visible dictator the army has become quite an invisible one. What you call for is an acceptance of the army as an invisible hidden dictatorship, but we then lets not call it democracy at that point. As for the Muslim Brotherhood, I'm not scared of the brotherhood and the results of the referendum are irrelevant. The reason why these results mean nothing, is that the army is running the political show now. As in any dictatorship and now with our invisible one, there will be no support given from the army to the brotherhood and when push comes to shove in September what we will see is that NDP style parties coming into power. The army will protect its interests even if its interests may not necessarily be the foundation to any democracy. We can choose to fight for that democracy both ideologically and physically and take the risk that the brotherhood might come into power, or we can back-off and operate within a framework of a pseudo-democracy. I have no problem with either to be honest things are what they are. But what I don't appreciate is calling things something which they are not.
    A word of caution, you have no idea who I am or what I do and yet you've lumped me in with "YOUR bloggers" and claim that I live in some Ivory Tower, and while I appreciate your feedback on this post and dialogue you've opened, making assumptions about me personally and being derogatory hardly creates an avenue for discussion. So I hope you can continue to discuss your objections, but do give me something to work with by critiquing what I say, not what you think I am saying and who you think I am.