The 25th of January, 2012 saw the nicest weather Cairo has had all winter. I also saw the most incredible and beautiful scenes I have ever witnessed in this city. The streets were filled with throngs of people the likes of which I had never seen before, much less imagined possible. Indeed, the sheer number of protesters was impossible to fully comprehend. The march I was initially part of alone dwarfed anything I saw in Madison’s Capital Square, even during its best attended days in February last year. Then, after roughly half an hour of marching, our column was met by an equally large group of protesters. The marches converged at a T-shaped intersection. The front of the marches greeted each other with cheers and chanting so loud you could feel it in your stomach, the power was overwhelming. We then continued our march towards downtown. I later found out that our column was joined by at least three other marches, although column was so long that it was only by chance that one witnessed this spectacle.
By the time we crossed from Giza to Zamalek, the march stretched from Tahrir Square well into Giza. This may be hard to visualize for those of you not familiar with Cairo, but try to imagine a densely packed column of people stretching down most of the length of W. Washington Street (if you are from Madison). It was fairly spread out in Giza but as I approached Qasr al-Nil bridge, the bridge leading to Tahrir from the island of Zamalek, it became so dense with people that you couldn’t even reach into your pockets or take off your sweatshirt if you got too hot for fear of smacking your neighbors in the face! However, even in these cramped, generally pretty agitating conditions, the mood remained one of peace and solidarity. However, contrary to how the Muslim Brotherhood and SCAF want to portray January 25th, 2012, those millions of Egyptians took to the streets to protest the continuation of military rule, not celebrate. While the Muslim Brotherhood set up a stage in Tahrir to tout the military’s empty accomplishments since they took power a year ago, they were alone in a sea of dissenters.
These people were not just your average young activist. They were Egyptians from every walk of life: from an old woman in a wheelchair to young children with their family; vocal socialists and devout capitalists; scruffy secularists and prolifically bearded Islamists; Katamaya dwellers (very wealthy) and homeless people; Women with not even an eye slit in their Niqab and young women in Ugz and skinny jeans. Despite the incredible variety, all these people joined in chanting “the people demand the end of military rule.” And they showed up not in the thousands, but in the millions to demonstrate their disapproval of where the SCAF is taking their revolution. I can only hope that the energy and solidarity of that day continues.
That being said, the revolution’s anniversary also highlighted a major lingering threat to the revolution: the Muslim Brotherhood. I know I have written previously urging moderation in how to view the MB. And I stick by that in terms of them being labeled as Islamists: they are not religious fanatics (not in general at least). However, they are power hungry and have acted in a way that makes me really nervous about how they will act with their electoral mandate.
First and foremost they have demonstrated repeatedly that they are in bed with SCAF, even if they occasionally put out statements to the contrary. They are the only group in Tahrir who are supporting the army. Though initially on the 25th their speakers were blaring anti-SCAF chants, they quickly changed their tone as some of the larger marches entered the square. This leads into my second concern: they began openly provoking the youth and secular protesters. They chanted pro-SCAF slogans as well as religious slogans like their usual “Islamaya! Islamaya” which means “Islamic! Islamic!” in reference to themselves. Additionally, they began claiming to be the true defenders of the revolution and that most of those who had been killed since the revolution were thugs, not martyrs. For activists who not only actually started the revolution, but who have also seen their friends shot, beaten, tortured and arbitrarily arrested/tried/detained by the military, this was more than they could take. Some minor scuffles broke out, nothing really major and the more level-headed activists eventually gained control and moved most of their efforts to the square in front of Maspero. However, the fact remains that the MB was intentionally trying to start fights with protesters; they were playing into the hands of SCAF with absolutely no shame or second thought. And it worked, not only were they able to get the youth to react to their taunts, but the fighting was enough to scare many of the average Egyptians (non-activist/non-politically affiliated) out of Tahrir square.
Now the mood for many who remain in Tahrir has changed from one of excitement over seeing so many people take part in the marches on the 25th of January to one of tension and aprehension. Most went down to occupy Tahrir knowing that, like every time prior, they were eventually going to be attacked by the military and CSF. Additionally, they all knew that the MB would be there and that they would try to stir up trouble. But the lack of commitment from average Egyptians has really been demoralizing. Millions turned out to protest on the 25th but only thousands were willing to take part in the sit-in and maintain pressure on SCAF and the new parliament. Though there is clearly support from many Egyptians, most of them continue to be unwilling to stand in continuing solidarity with those who risked everything for the Egyptian revolution.
If the MB is not challenged, or at least watched closely, they stand to become a new NDP. They are under the control of the SCAF. They have shown they are just as willing to disregard electoral laws and use insidious tactics to undermine social movements as the NDP. They have just found a better way to monopolize power, by not making it obvious. When the NDP won elections by over 80%, people knew without a shadow of a doubt that the results were fake. When you win with a clear plurality but not with unilateral control people get the impression that the party is both popular and not obviously corrupt.
I stand by my assertion that the MB deserves a chance to rule as they were elected in an unprecedentedly fair and transparent election. However, when they are revealed for the two-faced, power hungry people they are it is the duty of Egyptians to once again rise up and depose them through peaceful, democratic means. Similarly, it is the duty of the West to stay out of this process. This is not to say that support for Civil Society is not imperative but America in particular cannot start supporting yet another shadow regime; we already give billions of dollars to the military dictators of Egypt (which needs to change also) and we can’t afford to be seen as supportive of yet another repressive regime in Egypt. Unless of course America wants to fail even harder at winning the hearts and minds of Egyptians. Finally, SCAF must not be allowed to slink back into the shadows without being held accountable for their crimes against the Egyptian people while in power. They must not be allowed to fall into the periphery, where they prefer to work, while still maintaining complete control over civilian governance in Egypt.
The SCAF are criminals and have a lot of blood on their hands. If the MB decides to protect them and act like the new NDP then they are no better. If the new government wants any legitimacy it must realize that those who would kill the people they are supposed to protect must be punished. If criminals can commit their crimes with impunity the people will never have faith in the government.