Friday, 25 March 2011

Pro Mubarak Demonstration



In front of the old main building of the American University in Cairo, a very uncommon demonstration took place this morning. About fifty people displaying big posters of a handsome, radiant Mubarak gathered for a pro Mubarak walk. Even though they were heavily insulted by the people on the streets, they held their heads up high and answered back that in a democracy all opinions had a perfect right to be publicly shown…

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The Demonstrations Continue

The wind of revolution whistled down the streets of the Cairene down town area again. In the morning, the Shaykhs from the Azhar University organized a protest demonstration in front of the Ministry of Religious Endowments in order to demand the independence of their University and the rest of the Azhar institutions from the state. At the same time, they asked for the right to directly elect the head of those establishments. 
Theologians (shaykhs) from the Azhar institutions protesting in front of the Ministry of Religious Endowments

This demonstration of the most respected Islamic theologians of the country was completely peaceful compared to another one, only a couple of streets further to the south-east. There, the police gathered in order to plead for higher wages and more respect, in front of the generally detested building of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
This monumental edifice, a symbol of violent power, with its totalitarian aspect always reminded me of George Orwell’s “Ministry of Love” and, as a matter of fact, it seems to have had strangely similar functions under the successive Egyptian authoritarian regimes. This is the reason why nobody seems to have been truly offended that parts of it were set on fire by the protesting police officers. This act may only have brought them closer to the “people of the 25th of January Revolution”.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

January Stories

“January Stories” is the title of a documentary drama about the revolution, directed by Dr. Dalia Bassiouny. The play has been running in the Manf Theatre since the 1st of March and will still be on stage until the 28th of this month. 

Scene from the drama "January Stories", directed by Dalia Bassiouny

Four women and five men, all students from Dalia’s class at Helwan University, read the testimonies published by different Egyptian authors during the revolution. The actors are all dressed in black and the white headscarves of two of the ladies are the only light spots on the sinister scene.
The drama starts with the humming of another group of students who are lined up behind the audience. At the same time, the actors appear on stage and sit down, side by side, on a row of red chairs. Two more seats are placed in the foreground of the scenario and two microphones are positioned in front of them. 

The women and men, one by one get up, step forward, take a seat in the front line and read their testimonies to the audience. At the end of each reading, the actor or actress stands up and severely recites a list of names and ages of the martyrs of the revolution. After the mentioning of each name, the percussionist has her instrument echo the sober heart-beat of reality. The revolution truly claimed its victims and most of them were in their twenties. These students who are performing the drama are colleagues of the ones who died. It could have been them. All of them experienced violence and witnessed with their own eyes how people got killed. 

The play ends with a common shrill, cacophonic and desperate scream which seems to be coming from deep inside of those young peoples’ soles. They do not act. Tears are running down their faces. After sharing their traumas in a cathartic act with the audience, they vanish from the stage like shadows. Nobody applauds. Deathly silence.

Monday, 21 March 2011

77% say “yes” – Tahrir says “no” – Is this the End of the Revolution?

When I left the house early in the morning, I was surprised that the big metal chain on the front door of the building which used to protect the inhabitants against possible assaults from the side of the baltagiyya had suddenly gone. People were cleaning the sidewalks, dogs running down the empty streets and the worn out propaganda posters slightly moving in the wind. The country seemed back to normal.
In the afternoon, the men gathered in coffee shops to watch soccer. The weekly paper at-Tariq depicted next to the big “no to the constitutional reform” –the “no” of which was composed as a collage out of the revolutionary martyrs’ pictures– a photograph of a soccer player. The nation, therefore, seemed to start to remember its heroes of pre-revolutionary times.
Later in the day, the result of the referendum reached the Egyptian public. The constitutional reform was passed by 77%. Even though, on Friday, the propaganda for a “no,” on the Tahrir Square, had been considerable, the Egyptian citizens accepted the proposed reform of their Norma Normarum. Did they follow the extremists of the political panorama who were all propagating a “yes” at the ballot boxes?
Different Egyptians explained to me that they were afraid not to have a constitution. Others mentioned that they wanted to force the army to hand over politics to a civil government as fast as possible. And some citizens also stated that they just wanted their lives to go back to normal again. There were also Egyptians who were not sure about what to vote but, at the same time, they felt the importance of proceeding to the polling stations in order to show their will to participate in the building process of a democracy. As there was no option for handing in a blank vote, they had to side with the absolute options “yes” or “no.” It is also important to consider that the votes of the enormous quantity of Egyptians living abroad were missing, as they had no opportunity to participate in the referendum. The outcome must therefore not be simply qualified as a success of the extremists and/or the conservatives over the liberals.
People seemed to accept the result. Only a very small crowd gathered on the Tahrir Square around 11pm with posters denouncing the voting process and demanding the decline of the planned constitutional reform.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

19th of March: Day of the Referendum

Today was a Saturday on which most Egyptians did not sleep late. Already at 8am, when the polling places were opened –mostly at governmental schools– people were already patiently queuing up in order to give their –what they felt to be– historical vote. Citizens where gathering in front of these places, in correct and courteous order, until 9pm.
Uncle and nephew in front of a poster which explains the voting process, at a polling station in Cairo, on the 19th of March

At a small elementary school of a popular area, hidden behind a mosque, near the Tahrir Square, at noon, men were patiently waiting in a long queue in the burning sun. One closely next to the other, the long line of male citizens formed all along the walls of the school yard, reached far out through the iron gate and, from there, up a small pedestrian alley in the direction of the mosque. Some of the men were reading newspapers and others making plans aloud about how to reform the country. For the ladies a separate queue was formed which was astonishingly short, compared to the one of their male compatriots. It  never consisted of more than six women at a time.
An armed soldier was keeping guard in front of the iron gate of the school. And at the doors of the polling station, two police men kindly told me that I was not allowed to step further inside. A lady who stepped out to the schoolyard explained to me that there were no officers controlling inside the polling place and that one could freely take a sheet, mark “yes” or “no” and then put it into the ballot box. She showed me her thumb which was marked pink. This is the sign which makes sure that the citizens will not vote twice. However, not all of the polling stations handled this finger-coloring-policy in the same manner. Some requested the index finger and others seemed not to dye their citizens’ hands at all. This somehow made me doubt about whether it was not possible to vote twice, as all Egyptians could vote at whatever ballot box of their choice, in the complete absence of lists and with the tainted fingers as the only direct proof of participation.
Be this as it may, the Egyptian citizens were very happy and proud to be voting for the first time in a referendum in which they directly felt their influence on the shaping of a new political system. Gamal, a law student, told me that he is very pleased that in these times of democracy and freedom the Egyptians are finally asked to think and to decide what they consider good for their fatherland. He added that this is the reason why, starting from now they will be able to fully respect the law for it being passed by the sovereign people.
Next to the iron gate, a big poster hang from the wall formed out of red bricks. It explained how the voting process was to be handled by the individual citizens. Mohamed, the owner of two shops which are supplying car items, proudly explained the meaning of the poster to me, while his little nephew kept posing in front of my camera with his new T-shirt in the colors of the Egyptian flag and with the line “Revolution of the 25th of January” printed on the front.
This was the first really warm day in Cairo since the beginning of the month and people moved happily and proudly around the town, aware of the fact that they themselves had overthrown the system and were on their way to build up a new one; a real democracy, not only rhetorically defined as such by the constitution.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

The People Want a New Constitution!

Yesterday night, while driving home in a taxi, I was already able to collect some propaganda sheets which people handed out along the road. The Facebook group Almasry Alhurr distributed a small flyer in the shape of the Egyptian flag on which, in two columns, they shortly stated what they wish and what they oppose to. The conclusive propaganda slogan reads at the bottom:  “Say “no” to the reform, save your right and the rights of your children!” The taxi driver who observed my eagerness for collecting these sheets and who saw that I was reading the constitution on the back seat, told me that he was feeling quite helpless. He explained that he wants to contribute to the rebuilding of the nation but that he feels that he has not enough information to do so. Therefore, he asked me to explain to him what this constitutional issues were all about. At the same time, he expressed his and the people’s need for political education. 

Tharir Square on the 18th of March, people dancing under the Egyptian flag

At noon, on my way to Tahrir Square, the posters encouraging the Egyptians to vote “yes” at the referendum about the constitutional reform seemed to form the majority. I even witnessed how a man was tearing down the red propaganda sheets posted to the walls by the opposition. Overnight, the town had been plastered in posters with the bold written words “yes” or “no”, a view only familiar to me in this magnitude from my home country Switzerland.
On the Tahrir Square, however, solely the parties promoting the denial of constitutional reforms where represented. Academics were gathering massively and they easily recognized each other. All universities from Cairo and even from abroad seemed to have sent their delegates. This is the reason why, the normal greeting had become: “good morning, Doctor, nice to see you today! Let me introduce my colleague from the University XY to you…”
But not only the professors met on the Tahrir Square today, poets again came up to me in order to recite their work and a bunch of young men enthusiastically let me film their dance under an enormous Egyptian flag while holding up their red posters which were saying “no.”
 Tharir Square on the 18th of March, woman promoting the "no" to the reform of the constitution.
 
People attached to political groups or independent citizens all massively distributed flyers or even newspapers. At the same time, the army and the police were building rows around the different groups of demonstrators who were crowding around the speakers. The officers seemed to be in a good mood. Some of them even started to negotiate the price of revolution-souvenirs with a street seller and another three of them directly asked me to film them. They smiled and lined up proudly in front of my camera.

At 11pm, the political activity on Tahrir Square had still not stopped and “no”-papers were amply flying through the open windows of the bypassing cars.

Will the people vote “no”? Will the elections be fair? A caricature in the newly founded, Medan Altahrir newspaper which was distributed for free, doubts about that.
We will see tomorrow…

Thursday, 17 March 2011

...and the waves of the Nile were dancing with joy…

Early in the morning, I left for Zaqaziq. The weather was foggy and the cars advanced slowly. After an hour some sunrays pierced the mist and finally the formerly black and filigree palm trees adopted their full and dark-green attire.
At the University of Zaqaziq I was invited to attend the meeting of the Students’ poetry club, lead by Prof. Dr. ‘Ali Yusuf as-Sayyid of the Department for Arabic Language and Literature. Twelve students and two professors gathered in an ample office and sat down on the chairs, and behind the tables, lined up along the walls. Four male students and one female student, in their early twenties recited their poems which they had written about the revolution.
Mostly in classical Arabic, each of them performed his/her recital as an act of perfectly dominated passion, proper for professional actors used to stage Shakespeare. The only female student who happily agreed to recite her work, metaphorically pictured the joy of the Egyptian people on the Tahrir square, when they had succeeded to make Mubarak fall, as the waves of the Nile which were dancing.
I was deeply moved by the literary talent and eagerness to acquire knowledge of these young people. The professors finally left the room and the students sat with me for a while in order to ask questions. They wanted to know, why the “West” was often picturing them as cruel and bloodthirsty terrorists and why the foreign journalists had not correctly understood, right from the beginning of the revolution, their wish for freedom and their need for a just and common space where they might develop their talents. At the same time they expressed their desire for an exchange with foreign youths which until now has been more or less impossible in this part of the country.
On my way back to Cairo, I was deeply moved about the scene I had just witnessed. To see how these so highly gifted and intelligent students recited their poems and demonstrated their willingness to learn and get to understand, impressed me much more than all the demonstrations I had witnessed since my arrival in Egypt. Therefore, I said to myself: “These young people are truly able to build up a bright future for themselves and for their country!" 
Will the international power-structure let them do so?

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Active Period of Political Debate about the Constitution

Recently, a friend of mine explained to me that before the revolution, all what people were talking about was soccer and that now, after the fall of Mubarak’s regime, politics completely are dominating the thoughts and discussions of all layers of the Egyptian society.
As a matter of fact, on the highest level, the political parties started to make propaganda either for a “yes” or a “no” to the reform of the constitution of 1971 which is still in force. The opposition parties (the Wafd, Nasserists and three others are quoted in Masri al Yom) as well as Mohamed El Baradei and his National Union for Change are encouraging their followers to vote “no”, next Saturday, when the Egyptians are asked to proceed to the ballot boxes of their districts. On the other hand, Mubarak’s National Democratic Party –in Masri al Yom quoted without the adjective “democratic” – and the Muslim Brothers promote the maintenance and amendment of the Norma Normarum.
El Baradei does not find it reasonable to perform a voting process in the middle of this politically still chaotic situation and claims for the establishment of a dialogue among the political groups in the first place. At the same time, the Muslim thinker Muhammad Salim al ‘Awa, is quoted by Masri al Yom, as inciting the “ones who truly love Egypt” to agree to a reform of the constitution. He is convinced that in the transitional period until the elections, no new Supreme Law might be passed.
The Muslim Brothers stick to their pre-revolutionary program of rejecting the possibility for Christians or women to become Egyptian presidents. 
Caricature currently exhibited in Cairo Atelier

At the same time, the network of the “Youth of the Revolution” (which consists of uncountable interlinked grass-root organizations mostly connected thorough Facebook) and the army started to rebuild the destroyed church in the village Sawl –the destruction of which had been one of the main causes for the demonstrations in front of the “Maspiro” television tower. The Copts also declared that they do not wish to establish a Christian political party and that they plead for a secular state instead.
It is quite striking to see the Muslim Brothers “ally” with the National Democratic Party as far as the voting on the constitution is concerned. One wonders whether they were not maintaining a certain kind of dialectical dynamic with the regime which has been overthrown by the revolution of the 25th of January. Even though, from time to time arrested by Mubarak’s secrete services, Muslim Brothers were already represented in the Parliament longtime before the revolution. They also joined the demonstrations quite late and still seem to wait and see for further developments before taking a clear position.
A more unmistakable message is transferred by the Islamists who are released from prison. They are convinced about the feasibility and necessity of the foundation of an Islamic state in the sense of the caliphate.

Monday, 14 March 2011

La Vache Qui Rit

Wordplay-Parody Turned into Aesopian Symbol – The Relation between the Valkyrie and Mubarak

Thanks to globalization, the motive of the red laughing cow on the round carton cheese package, has become familiar to the inhabitants of 120 countries. Jules Bel started to produce this milk product by the end of the 19th century on the French side of the Jura. The artist, Benjamin Rabier designed the first laughing cow for the competition organized by Bel who was searching for a product-label.
The name “la vache qui rit” is originally derived from a French wordplay which mocked the food transport of the German army during World War I –called “Walküre” (i.e. “Valkyrie” in French). The divine heroine of the Norse mythology was therefore brutally turned into a happy cow and exposed to laughter in hostile lands.
However, this is not the end of the story: Egyptian Aesopian speech which was aiming to foment resistance against Mubarak’s authoritarian regime during the last decades, integrated the laughing cow into its vocabulary. “La vache qui rit” in written satire and caricature came to represent the ex-president Mubarak.
In conclusion: the Norse divinity Valkyrie was turned into a laughing cow, at the beginning of the 20th century and –in this new guise– came to represent the Egyptian president, one hundred years later. Which means that a logo, designed after the parody of a popular etymology was employed anew as Aesopian emblem of resistance against oppression. In the first place, a symbol of strength of the enemy was mockingly debased, in the second step, the outcome and commercialization of even that parody, was used to degrade a representative of arbitrary and corrupt rule. This is how the happy, red cow successfully laughed about two menacing power- constellations.
On the Opera Square, stands a sign which should draw the drivers’ attention to traffic lights. This somewhat useless indication to traffic lights, which do not exist on or near the square, was turned into the support for a logo of the Mubarak opposition: a crossed-out picture of the laughing cow.

Traffic sign with the "la vache qui rit" anti-Mubarak propaganda sticker on the Opera square

The Caricature and the Revolution

The Caricature and the Revolution” is the title of the exhibition which Mohamed Abla opened today in his gallery “Cairo Atelier” and which will warmly welcome visitors during the next two weeks. Six walls are filled with the satirical artwork of Egyptian as well as American caricaturists. The caricatures are mostly reprints of the originals which were formerly published in newspapers, since the beginning of the revolution.
 
One of the major topics brought forward by the artists is Mubarak’s stubbornness in refusing to step down. The former president is therefore depicted as having the pyramids plug into his ears while facing the demonstrations; as crossing his arms on his chest and saying that he will stay; or as standing in a lake of blood, while insisting to continue his mandate until the bitter end. At the same time, the sphinx with a plaster on her nose and the sharks of Sharm el Sheikh call out that they will remain until he leaves. In another drawing, the people push the tyrant down from his royal throne with a huge “la” (no) or they snatch him away with an enormous arm, composed of the masses of demonstrators. Watches are also symbolically used to display that Mubarak’s time is up: a sand-watch shows his face on the bottom while shoes are drizzling down and menace to drown him. (To call somebody “shoe” is a common and bad insult in the Egyptian dialect, for the shoe also being related to impurity in a socio-religious context).


 
Another important subject displayed in the caricatures of the exhibition is Facebook. This new medium is metaphorically celebrated as the knight which came to liberate the country or depicted as a gin which jumps out of the computer in front of Hosni Mubarak. A big drawing of “Facebook” is also presented in a caricature as the new “office picture” which managed to ban the omnipresent image of the former president. At the same time, the national personification of the United States, uncle Sam, hesitates whether to “unfriend” Hosni on Facebook. Another satirical drawing shows the sinister representative of the secret service sarcastically gaze at the demonstrators and explain to his ally –the death– that what they have to do now is to make those “friended” people “enemy” each other.


Facebook is generally recognized as having played a main part in the coordination of the protests. However, the voices which insist on the fact that the revolution was truly “popular,” state that when Mubarak’s regime made the internet and telephone system collapse, the people were –surprisingly– still able to gather for demonstrations. As the access to Facebook clearly marks the social status of a person as on the middle and upper class level, the Egyptian revolution of the masses might –in theory– be turned into a movement completely in the hands of the elite. In order to make her position clear concerning this discussion, the first female judge of the Supreme Constitutional Court, Tahany al-Gibali, mentioned in her talk about the constitution, which took place in the AUC today, that the revolution must be considered as a “popular” uprising to which Facebook contributed but which was not solely established by this modern instrument of mass communication.


A third important topic depicted by the caricaturists is the change of attitude of the population towards the police. Amply feared before the revolution, the officers now serve coffee and nicely great the “people” who look down on them. In one satirical painting, a criminal explains in a talk on his mobile phone that he cannot “work” at the moment. Due to the fact that even the police are afraid of the anger of the masses, he does not dare leave his home… 



At the same time as the police is mocked, the army is celebrated as the savior of the freedom of the country. Not only the caricatures celebrate the victory of Tahrir as achieved by the people and the army, even on the streets, while passing in front of the opera, I could witness again groups of young men proudly and happily taking pictures with a tank positioned on the square.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Muslims and Christians: Two Halves of One United People

The Friday prayer and demonstrations took place in front of the television tower and on the Tahrir Square under the banner of unity between Muslims and Copts. People showed up with crosses and crescents painted on their cheeks. The banner  which were displayed today mostly highlighted the “naturally determined” and, therefore, “national” and “necessary” union among all Egyptians despite of their religious differences. At the same time, the written slogans campaigned against the reform of the old and for the elaboration of a completely new constitution. 
Demonstration for national unity among Muslims and Copts on the Tahrir Square on the 11th of March
On the 19th of March the Egyptians will be asked to vote whether or not they want to accept the old constitution to be emended in order to speed up the election process. People fear that if the old constitution is merely reformed and not completely replaced, the old system which favored widespread corruption and empowered the secrete services, will continue.
The prayer and the political agenda of unity among Muslims and Copts did not attract even half as many people as had been there one week ago. “Where is everyone?”, did I ask a woman who was following the happenings next to me. “Most of them are in front of “Maspiro”, the television tower where the Copts have been protesting for seven days!”
The middle of Tahrir Square was deserted and the circle of sand in the centre flooded with water. An ugly looking swamp was left at the place where only one week earlier poets, activists, preachers, victims and street sellers were still gathering fool of energy and enthusiasm about the revolution.

Demonstration for national unity among Muslims and Copts on the Tahrir Square on the 11th of March

The representative of the Supreme Council of the Egyptian army stood next to a high priest and a monk of the Coptic church. They hugged, kissed the pictures of the victims of the revolution which were handed up to them and sung the national anthem twice with the crowd. The high army officer in his simple uniform held up a Quran and a cross in his hand and had the people repeat that Muslims and Christians are all Egyptians and will rebuild this free new country together.
The scene looked artificial, stiff, exaggerated and therefore unintentionally comic enough to remind me of Adil Emam’s parody of a conference for the national dialogue among Muslims and Copts in his film “Hassan wa Marqus”. In one scene, the representatives of the two major religious groups of the country talk bad about each other before entering the conference hall and then finally –hand in hand–  they stand up after every intervention and call out aloud: “Long live the [union of] the crescent and the cross!”


Later in the afternoon,  a shaykh from al-Azhar claimed out against the corruption of the old system. He accused Mubarak, al-Adly and the former ministers of corruption and reminded the importance of their public trial to the audience who had gathered in front of his stage which was formed by a van and a pile of black amplifiers.
In front of the television building on the Corniche of the Nile, four tanks, barbed wire, iron bars and armed soldiers made the protesters “feel save”. The same slogans were voiced as on the Tahrir Square. However, Muslims seemed not to be plainly happy with the attitude of the Coptic Church. Baba Shenouda III remained loyal to Hosni Mubarak’s regime until its very end. This is the reason why, some of the Muslim revolutionaries now feel that the Christians are trying to profit from a political movement which has not really been theirs.
Even though, in these difficult and uncertain times, the Egyptians have barely lost their sense of humor. Two days ago, I witnessed the performance of folk songs against “Adly Bey”, “Mubarak”,  other representatives of the fallen regime, the baltagiyya and the secret services. Today, I attended a shadow and puppet play which mocked the revolutionary situation and ended by making the children –who were eagerly following the show– sing the national anthem. I am also spending my days laughing about Mubarak and other jokes and my nights looking at the caricatures which are massively published in the newspapers.


Mubarak Joke

For his birthday, Mubarak gets a turtle as a gift. The person offering the animal, tells him that it might live 400 years. Mubarak answers, not really convinced: “Hmmm, we will see about that…”

Friday, 11 March 2011

Building up Democracy?

The new Minister of Culture Emad Abu Ghazi in a reunion with Egyptian theater artists at the Supreme Council for Culture
Today, the new Minster of Culture, Emad Abu Ghazi met a group of about 200 artists in the Supreme Council for Culture in order to listen to their wishes and needs for the future development of the Egyptian stage. The actors, directors, playwrights and other personnel involved in drama activities, eagerly voiced their suggestions and questions. The minister stood in front of the sometimes loud and struggling crowd, took notes and replied to the audience.
Even though, the euphoria of directly addressing the minister and the desire of many people to be talking at the same time sometimes seemed to lead the common approach to chaos, the audience always managed to calm themselves down. Everybody was completely aware of the importance of the moment. The wish for cooperation was held up high explicitly. The perceptive and so easily approachable minister with his audience who brought forward a torrent of ideas, demands and projects set up an atmosphere of constructive and plainly democratic dialogue. 
Tahrir Square on the 10th of March, guarded by the army and the police

Will this spirit of freedom be strong enough to conquer back the public space which for the moment is “over-protected” by tanks and armed soldiers? Will it succeed in holding back the mist of fear which is sneaking out of some deep cellars which are still guarded by the secrete services? Will it fill the air with tolerance and make the Christian and Muslim fundamentalists’ violent agendas vain?

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

9th of March 2011 – The End of Liberation (Square)?

The 9th of March is an important date in Egyptian history. On that day in 1938, the first President of Cairo University, Ahmad Lutfi as-Sayyid, resigned in order to protest against the governmental decision to dismiss Taha Hussein from his position as the Dean of the Faculty of Arts. Freedom of thought and expression were then progressively banished from the campus of Cairo University and this situation  was to last until present day.
During the last three days, students and professors have been openly protesting against their superiors. They want to push the president and the deans –representatives of Mubarak’s regime– to resign. However, the president just decided to maintain Cairo University closed for some more days until everybody might forget about the issue…
College for English Literature of Cairo University; students claim for the re-opening of the university, 9th of March 2011

When I came back from the campus, at around 8 pm, Midan at-Tahrir was empty. Soldiers with machine guns were patrolling the square and a group of around sixty men had gathered in a corner of Qasr al-Nil Street. They were gazing to the centre of the circle where a few hours earlier the “inner-circle of the revolution” had still been operating. Officers of the traffic police in their black winter-uniform and armed soldiers were circling around them.
 


Administration Building: The Mogamma
The “utopian city of liberation” had completely vanished. The core building of the Kafkaesque authoritarian administration –the Mogamma– had recuperated its sinister totalitarian aspect. It had suddenly, reappeared out of the shadow of the tents under the shelter of which freedom had been born. Was this a dream? Are we to wake up all of a sudden from this short ecstasy of liberation?
The traffic police seems to have recuperated their former positions and are to be seen everywhere in down town. Curfew is –starting from tomorrow– back on at 8 pm. The reason why? The baltagiyya, as usual… 

Demonstration for Women’s Rights


On the 8th of March –International Women’s Day–  the Confederation of Egyptian Women’s Organizations (تحالف المنظمات النسوية المصرية) convoked, like every year, a gathering. However, this time they decided that they wanted to make their demonstration march from the building of the journalists’ syndicate, along Talaat Harb Street, to the Tahrir Square in order to unite there with the steady residents of the “inner-circle” of the revolution. 

8th March Demonstration for Women's Rights

Demonstrations currently happen on a daily basis. The Egyptians need to talk and to scream their thoughts out aloud. People openly lament to have lost thirty years of their lives to a system which had curtailed all kinds of initiative. It seems that now, avalanches of demands and projects which had been held back over the last three decades are continuously discharged into Liberation Square.
Yet, not everybody is happy about the ongoing obstacles of the traffic. To be stuck for hours in the traffic jam and finally not to reach appointments is everybody’s fate at the moment. Nobody exactly knows when and where demonstrations are taking place. Where the traffic police is missing, citizens try to help to put some order back into the chaos of desperately honking vehicles. Sometimes groups of people stop cars in order to tell the drivers which streets presently are closed and which alternative way they might choose instead.
For the women’s rights demonstration, around fifty women and men had gathered in front of the building of the journalists’ syndicate. They assembled on the stairs while a lady handed out Egyptian flags to the participants. Then they briefly posed with their banderoles and posters for the photographers and journalists form the television and finally walked pacifically in their little circle towards Tahrir Square.
Very prominently, one of the organizers walked in front with a bunch of flowers in her arms for the martyrs of the revolution. The attractive tall women with her long black hair and white-framed sunglasses moved proudly on her high-heeled boots and continuously addressed the watchers with a charming smile. “Every man has to congratulate every woman on this day because this is the International Women’s Day!”, she kept repeating. 

8th March Demonstration for Women's Rights

The small group passed in front of the Swiss embassy, where the very young looking soldiers on guard,  with their enormous machine guns, curiously gazed at them. On their way, the protestors were asked about their demands by the people on the streets. Some of the men who were watching the demonstration concluded that they did not really understand “the problem”. Others were wondering what “those foreigners” wanted from the revolution. And finally a group of adolescents yelled that the Egyptian women are the best and most beautiful in the world anyway. 



A group of construction workers, with cigars between their lips, asked one of the girls who was carrying a poster with the line “Equality between Women and Men” what this was all about. She bravely turned around, held up her banner towards them and tried to give a short explanation. Unfortunately, they did not look very convinced after she had walked away. 

8th March Demonstration for Women's Rights

On the Tahrir Square, after the party had made their way through the honking cars, they were eagerly welcomed by the guardians of the steady revolution. “Rights now not tomorrow!”, they were chanting. And the women’s rights protestors answered with the slogan: “We want a civil state! Neither a military dictatorship nor a theocracy!”

Monday, 7 March 2011

What comes after the fall of the system?

Who Is “the People”? 
In the “core utopian city” which has become the symbol of the revolution, interestingly enough, no real headquarters, no explicit party structures and no general councils can be found. A lot of different socio-political demands came to be the spirit of this so heterogeneous but pacific community. The youth who are gathering under the plastic tents insist that they are only representing themselves and do not belong to any defined party.
In an interview, the IT-engineer Ahmad (the name is changed) told me the following when I asked him about the organization of the revolution and of Tahrir Square: “There are people who organize committees. Everybody you meet will tell you: “I am the one who made the revolution come true! I am the president of the organizing committee! The revolution belongs to me!” However, you cannot take those people seriously. There are thousands who were and are still demonstrating. Fifteen parties promoted the revolution together. There are a lot of communities, organizations, movements and websites which organize gatherings and come up with ideas and demands. Even though, we are all talking for ourselves. There have been no elections for representatives who might talk in our name. I will help and ally with anyone who shares the same demands and ideas as I have. I am also truly thankful and indebted to the people who come here and take care of the sick, cook food or bring covers to for us. May God protect them and their children! But nobody has the right to talk in the name of the revolution! The guys you see on the television, with nice suites, who wear ties and look clean are not the ones who fought for the revolution. If their eyes are not read and swollen, they have not been exhausted by the revolution. We have a lot of demands, a constitution and the rule of law. I think that there should be a supreme [constitutional] council of five two seven deputies. As soon as we have got a political organ like that, a new constitution can be drafted and we have already made half of our way.” 
Sticker imitating the Egyptian car number plates. Instead of a city, they say: “based on the Tahrir”. Presently to be found on the windows of every second car.
 
Something similar was told in the meeting of the High Council of Culture which I attended some hours later. Here the nicely dressed doctors and professors of constitutional law talked not less revolutionary –but this time mostly in classical Arabic and not in dialect– about political change. One professor insisted, that the situation here can neither be compared to the May 68 movement in France, nor to the post-soviet changes of the Eastern European republics. Another –this time female professor– energetically asked why the break has not come earlier; how the system can still continue when all of the people are against it; why the whole legislative backbone of the old regime is not completely removed and replaced. She was the only one to get a spontaneous and loud applause from the audience after her absorbing intervention. A third dignitary in his seventies added that one should keep in mind that the Western democracies are far from being as perfect as they pretend to look. The English hate their Premier Minister, according to him, and the Europeans do not vote whether they want to have troupes in Afghanistan or not. At the same time, he concluded that the USA can´t be taken seriously with their completely fascist behavior.
In whatever surrounding, whether in formal conference-rooms –from which Mubarak’s pictures suddenly disappeared– or in coffee-houses, people eagerly read the newspaper, discuss and reconstruct the country in their minds.
However, what kind of political system will they finally establish? Will the poem-reciting intellectuals with their Palestinian scarves and cut T-shirts, the justice-seeking injured of the lower levels of society, the crying mothers who lost their children as martyrs on the first days of the upheaval, the furiously preaching bearded shaykhs with their long galabiyyas, the women who are wearing the Egyptian flag as a niqab and the lawyers, doctors and professors who are discussing different political systems and constitutions be able to tolerantly live in a new Egyptian democracy?

Sunday, 6 March 2011

As if they had come from Imagination...

Translation of a new poem (qasida) by the poet Muhammad Ibrahim Abu Sina. The poem is dedicated to the revolutionaries of the 25 of January and was published in Shabab at-Tahrir (a supplement of al-Ahram) on 3 of March 2011. The original Arabic text is wrapped around the Illustration on the picture. 
Click on the pictures to enlarge.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Friday Prayer and Demonstrations on the Tahrir Square


At 9:30 pm I left the house and started walking towards Tahrir Square. The streets were still quite empty. The people selling nationalistic emblems and souvenirs started to set up their posts and young men where offering bunches of red-white-black colored flags to the cars passing by.
By the end of the streets leading to the square, the civil control which the Egyptian Youth of the Revolution is organizing by their own initiative, was already performing the body-check of the ones who attempted to access Midan at-Tahrir. The young lady with her blue, glittery headscarf who was in charge of me, took a glimpse into my bags, smiled at me and let me pass.

The square looked again like at the beginning of a huge festival. People were selling nuts, drinks, T-shirts, flags, bags, badges, hats and all kinds of other gadgets with nationalistic logos. The men painting Egyptian flags on people’s faces were loudly advertising their service while holding three glass bottles in their hands with the colors needed.

Men and women went to deposit flowers in front of different memory-walls dedicated to the martyrs which consist of big white blankets decorated with pictures, spread out around the “utopian perfect city” of the steady revolutionary front, in the middle of the square.
Different stages were set up. Music was playing loudly from all directions. People started to line up for the prayer and men who were selling “one-use” prayer carpets were busily passing through the masses.
Wherever people saw me film, they came along and wanted to tell their story. Some of them said jokingly: “Ah you are from Switzerland, so you have got all Hosni’s money at the moment!”“I will bring it back to you, tomorrow!”, I replied with a smile. This was obviously not the only joke which was told on the square. The Egyptian taste for satire is omnipresent. A puppet-player who was carried on shoulders was holding-up a Mubarak-marionette and making it move pleasingly while a teenager was calling out the rhymed lines which people had to scream at the puppet.

People gathered around me with huge posters which lamented the decease of martyrs, promoted change and freedom and attacked corruption. Some of them carried newspapers and pointed at articles which talked about the revolution. Still, the Egyptians not only seemed to worry about their own future but already showed solidarity with their neighbors who are desperately fighting for freedom at the moment. This is the reason why quite a lot of Libyan flags and posters against Gadaffi’s iron regime could be seen on the Tahrir Square today.
All classes of Egyptian society were present. A group of women in black and wearing niqab loudly screamed on one side while the protectors of the “core utopian city” in jeans and with their Palestinian scarves around their heads where watching. Children were happily dancing, playing with flags and singing nationalistic songs. Elderly people were sitting on the small stone walls or leaning against the green iron fences which border Tahrir square.

Today, I had the privilege of being offered two balconies to film for free. Both of the apartments belong to people who have been giving support to the demonstrators since the beginning of the revolution.
The view of the thousands of people lined up in rows, side by side, women and men, poor and rich, old and young who were following simultaneously with the movement of their bodies the prayer of the Imam was astonishing. I held my breath and scarcely noticed how the sun was burning my face.

After the solemn prayer had come to an end, music started and people chanted nationalistic slogans anew.  Suddenly, the new Prime Minster Essam Sharaf appeared among the masses, only protected by a few soldiers and constantly interrupted by the demonstrators. He started his talk by lamenting not to have been able to attend the Friday prayer on the square. The new Prime Minster then remembered the families of the martyrs of the revolution. In the middle of the crowd he confessed to his people that his task will not be easy. He further assured them that whenever he feels that he cannot master his duty, he will come back to them to the square. According to him, a free and secure Egypt is the highest of his goals and he therefore promised that the security forces will back up the Egyptians. Essam Sharaf solemnly concluded his first speech to the nation by saying that the Egyptians had just won a small Jihad but that the most difficult Jihad was still to come: the reconstruction of the Egyptian state.


I left the square when the sun was starting to set. Some blocks away, when the streets had become less crowded, I passed a father who was holding an around three years old child by his hand. The small boy who had the Egyptian national colors painted on his cheek was waving with a tiny flag and happily chanting all to himself in perfect rhythm:  "The people want the fall of the system!" (as-shahb yurid isqat an-nizam).

Friday, 4 March 2011

The New Bogyman: Al-Baltagy


Egyptians now currently complain about the lack of safety. On the one hand, a taxi driver today told me smilingly that hundreds of qism ash-shurta (police stations – where people used to be tortured) were burnt during the revolution. This is the reason why most of the police-officers flew and only the traffic-police is operating at the moment. On the other hand, people –especially the ones who are living in the popular neighborhoods– constantly express their fear of the baltagiyya.
Al-baltagiyya mostly means crimes of illegal and violent appropriation of someone else’s belongings like robbery or burglary. However, the baltagy seems also to operate as some kind of contractual killer or violent punisher who might be hired against an enemy. The squadrons liberated from prison which Mubarak’s regime sent out against the demonstrators where composed of this kind of criminals.
Be it as it may, the main function of the baltagy, at the very moment, seems to be the one of a bogyman who might come and punish the youth who are starting to behave in quite too liberal a manner for the taste of the traditional, patriarchal families… 

The youth are the heroes of the day. They have made the revolution succeed. Because of their patience to camp even in the rain and cold the old patriarch was chased away from power. How can their parents prevent them now from leaving the family home and from proudly doing whatever they please? The baltagy might catch them!!!



Text: “The Absence of the Police”, [the boy says to his parents]: "I have found out that the security is not stable in the country and as my dad refuses to go out, I will go!!"

Source: al-Masri al-Yom, 02 March 2011, p. 15.

Long Forgotten Tyrants...

The issue of Masri al Yom, published on the 2nd of March, starts with the heading: “The Banks are Starting to Freeze Mubarak’s Accounts and the Ones Belonging to the Members of his Family…” The recently overthrown president is then –one might already say “as usual” –accused of corruption and dictatorial ruling.
Very much to my surprise, after turning the cover-page, I immediately spotted the painted bust of a very familiar personage: Khedive Ismail (r. 1863-1879). This column on the head of the second page of the journal is usually dedicated to historical memory.
The same day as the one on which the newspaper is issued is linked to a date in the past which witnessed an important event in Egyptian history. The title of the column therefore consists of a date, here spelled: “1895.3.2”. Then the explanatory subtitle reads: “Decease of Khedive Ismail, the Founder of Modern Egypt.”
In the article the extravagant despot who was ruling Egypt at the end of the 19th century is highly praised for his uncountable achievements in modernizing the country. According to the brief text Khedive Ismail traveled to Italy after his deposition and finally died in Istanbul. Not a single word is said about the reason why; neither is his “travel to Italy” called “exile”!
The Khedive Ismail truly had Cairo and Alexandria re-constructed, theaters opened, the railway established, the Suez channel constructed and schools and scientific institutions built. Nevertheless, his financial policy of big-spending and taking up loans from English and French creditors drove him to bankruptcy. His tax-system became so cruel that the population on the country-side starved massively if they were not sent to prison and tortured for not being able to pay. Ismail’s merciless fiscal policy nevertheless –mainly due to corruption– did not succeed to pay back the loans and the financial dependence from the European powers finally was one of the main causes of the British occupation.
During his reign, the Khedive was strongly opposed by journalists like Yaqub Sanua, Adib Ishaq or Abdallah Nadim. In 1879 he was finally replaced, unfortunately not because of a national revolution, but due to the pressure the European powers had put on the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.
Now, 116 years after his death, after a quasi non violent national revolution, the Khedive Ismail is finally put on the pedestal of a founding-father of modern Egypt. In this example Benedict Anderson’s idea of how communities retroactively “imagine the nation” or better “reinvent a national history”, becomes pretty obvious…

I wonder in which way history will be told 116 days after Mubarak’s death? Will he reappear as the poor Mubarak who heroically fought against Israel, finally deposed for a bit of corruption and completely deprived of his honor?    

An-Nukta: Mubarak Joke of the Day

Mubarak enters paradise and meets Sadat and Nasser. They then discuss the means by which they were killed. Nasser tells his companions that his decease was caused by poison. Sadat then explains that a shouting had made him die. Mubarak thinks for a while and then concludes that Facebook dug his grave.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

"I am Egyptian, I am free!"


On the badge is written: "I am Egyptian, I am free" and on the pin: "Hold up your head, you are Egyptian!"


Announcement for the women's demonstration for democracy which will take place on the 8th of March. The participation of one million people is projected.

Liberation Square (Midan at-Tahrir)


At the moment, when approaching Tahrir Square, one might get the idea that the Egyptian national team must be playing in the Soccer World Championship. Everywhere street-sellers offer different items in the colors of the Egyptian flags, even the hats, which are typical for soccer fans and other kinds of gadgets with football symbols, can be purchased. However, the more the visitor comes nearer, the clearer he/she can see that the souvenirs, which are sold, are labeled after the “Revolution of the 25th of January 2011”. Pins are decorated with the line “Hold your head up high, you are Egyptian” and Plastic badges are sold with the pictures of the “Martyrs of the Revolution of the 25th of January 2011”. 

Even though the cars are driving around the square again, the middle is still occupied by the remains of the victorious revolution. In order to get access to this sandy circle covered with tents, one has to pass a body check organized by the demonstrators themselves, which is similar to the one at the airport. A girl with headscarf very naturally passed her hands over my breasts and hips and then let me in. The setting looked similar to an open-air concert at its beginning or end: people peacefully sitting around in tents, children getting their faces painted with the colors of the Egyptian flag, men selling different kinds of nuts but also eggs and other kinds of food and two men repairing a water pipe.

However, something is strikingly different. Poor people, with dirty galabiyyas (traditional long dress) are sitting next to men in suites. Women who are wearing niqab (face-veil) are carrying their children along next to a modern style igloo-tent, where a girl in jeans is eagerly typing on a laptop while the setting sun is making her hair glow with a red shine. On every face, whether poor or rich, sitting under dirty blankets or in a clean lycra tent, shines the national pride. 
These are the people of Liberation Square, the youth (even though there are people of every age) who have just proved to the whole world, that revolutions can be won pacifically. Children are smiling at me and ask me to take pictures of them. Afterwards they want to see them and then proudly walk away. People approach me and ask whether I am a journalist in order to make their stories public. Men and women are carrying all kinds of painted banderoles and posters, which request different kinds of changes. Flags and medallions are carried around which promote the union of Egyptian Muslims and Christians by the symbol of the crescent, which surrounds the cross. A column of memory pays tribute to the martyrs of the revolution. Everybody is friendly smiling and enormously proud to be a part of history. The spirit to fight for social and political changes is very high and people spontaneously gather in small groups and cheerfully chant slogans and walk to the buildings which host the institutions targeted for reform.

“I am Egpytian, I am free: Revolution of the 25 of January” is written on some badges which are sold and as the general mood is so energetic and happy, even a Khawaga (foreigner) like me can easily get 50 Piasters off when buying nationalist symbols. Something else is the rental of balconies for filming. This has turned into a very lucrative business. We entered a shop and asked whether it was possible to get access to the roof-terrace of a building in order to film the Friday demonstrations. The person at the entrance acted as if he did not know what we were talking about but very insistently sent us to the manager of the building. This happened to be a bearded old man, who was wearing a black galabiyya and was counting receipts on his small table, which was squeezed into some kind of mini-office under a staircase. The place, even though tiny, was adorned with all kinds of religious decorations. The manager told us that for 500 Egyptian Pounds a day we could get the terrace and that this was still cheap, considering that last week he was still getting 1000 Pounds from the big international news-channels …