[Marxism] Anger grows in Egypt #2

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Jul 13 09:14:27 MDT 2011

NY Times July 12, 2011
Not Satisfied, Protesters Return to Tahrir Square

CAIRO — Past a battered Fiat displaying T-shirts on its hood with 
the words “I am free,” and a little way from a vendor hawking 
roasted sweet potatoes wrapped in membership applications for the 
former ruling party, a sign hangs from a tent in Tahrir Square 
that says something about the pride, regret and hope of Egypt’s 

“Our mistake,” it declares, “is that we left the square.”

Eighteen days of protests here reached a climax on Feb. 11, a 
moment celebrated across the Arab world, when the crumbling 
government of President Hosni Mubarak finally gave way. Now, in a 
summer of discontent, thousands of protesters have returned to the 
square, and after midnight on Tuesday, as on many recent nights, 
they offered a rebuttal to the idea that a revolution is a moment.

Egypt is a turbulent place these days, as is the Arab world it 
once led. Defiant, festive and messy scenes unfold at night in a 
square that is at once a place and an idea. Revolutions are about 
expectations, and everywhere in Egypt, it seems, expectations — 
about who should rule, how they should rule and who should decide 
the way they rule — have not been met.

“Sit-in! Sit-in!” young men shouted. “A sit-in until the regime is 
put on trial.”

“We have a feeling the regime is still there, somehow,” said Tarek 
Geddawy, 25, a musician, who returned to the square on Friday and 
has stayed since then. “They sacrificed the icons of the regime, 
but the cornerstone is still there.”

 From a cluster of tents, a song by an Egyptian icon of another 
age, Abdel-Halim Hafez, played from a loudspeaker, seeming to echo 
Mr. Geddawy’s words.

“If the world falls asleep, I will keep my guard up,” the song 
goes. “My weapon in my hand, day and night awake, telling 
revolutionaries that our enemy can’t be trusted.”

Even in its reincarnation, Tahrir Square has kept the ebullience 
of months past. Artists like Nour Ramadan painted Egyptian flags 
on tired faces, charging a dollar or so. Musicians like Cairokee 
took the stage, giving way at 1 a.m. to impromptu poetry, oud 
recitals, children’s a cappella songs and Arabic rap that 
denounced American and Israeli policies in the same riff with 
calls for speedier trials of Mr. Mubarak and his men.

But a unity of purpose has given way to a multiplicity of demands, 
mirroring the divides that trouble Egypt’s political life these 
days. Debates rage over the timing of elections, the power of 
Islamists, the weakness of civilian rulers and the lack of 
accountability of their military counterparts, who suggested on 
Tuesday, in a seeming concession to protesters, that they would 
help protect civil liberties in the drafting of a new constitution.

The iconic slogan — “People want to topple the regime” — has given 
rise to endless corollaries, even among the largely secular crowd 
here. In any gaggle of youths, “the regime” was replaced with 
Prime Minister Essam Sharaf; the military council; and the 
corruption that seems a synonym for decades of misrule.

In the revolutionary fervor of February, Tahrir Square was a 
liberated enclave in an authoritarian country, an imagined 
community of sorts. Now it is Egypt itself, the distilled scene of 
all the fights and struggles, debates and fears that will decide 
its future.

“The revolution has informed people of the meaning of politics,” 
said Abdel-Aziz Moussa, a 25-year-old dentist. “We all know when 
we’re being played now.”

In that, he captured a microcosm of the square today that stands 
as perhaps the revolution’s most remarkable legacy. For so long, 
Arab leaders endured despite their relentless repression, colossal 
mismanagement or subservience to the West, because they managed to 
depoliticize their populations, often by force. But today, 
everyone in the square seemed to talk politics, with skepticism 
and critique.

“We changed, and they didn’t,” Ayman Abu Zeid, a 25-year-old 
doctor, said of the old government. He slept under tanks parked in 
Tahrir Square in February, blocking their way in case they tried 
to assault the protesters, and now he is in the square again. 
“Nobody is going to go back home,” he added. “No one.”

As a phrase, “the Arab spring” may never have captured what has 
unfolded this year. Libya is a civil war, Syria depressingly 
bloody. Bahrain was manipulated into a sectarian formula, and 
Yemen wrestled with the remarkable obstinacy of its leader. But it 
does suggest what the events meant for politics in nearly all 
those places, rejuvenating societies.

Under a large tent in the square, a collection of lean-tos bear 
the names of, by one activist’s count, 42 different groups. There 
is the Tomorrow Party, Youth of Tahrir Square, the Egyptian 
Socialist Party, the Alliance of Revolutionary Forces, the Party 
of the Democratic Front and, somewhat poetically, the Movement of 
the Beginning.

At 4 a.m., debates raged over a white loudspeaker: should 
protesters besiege the Mugamma, a behemoth of Egyptian bureaucracy 
in the square, or march on a building housing the cabinet? Youths 
warned one another of American and Saudi intentions to undermine 
the revolution. Others worried about the power of the Muslim 
Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest Islamic group. One insisted that the 
military council should dissolve.

“If it does,” another said angrily, “don’t ever cry again: ‘Help 
us! Help us!’ ”

At dawn, Julia Milad, 33, a real estate agent, ambled past tents 
strewn with trash. The square has become as untidy as the 
politics, and in an arena filled with uncertain intentions — of 
the military, of a feared shadow state, of the Muslim Brotherhood 
— Ms. Milad insisted that the legitimacy that eluded occupiers and 
dictators, strongmen and monarchs for so long in Egypt now rested 
with the protesters. It is a point even the military council seems 
to acknowledge.

“We’re the revolution, and revolutionary legitimacy is stronger 
than the power of the government, the power of the army, and the 
power of any other institution in society,” she said. 
“Revolutionary legitimacy is there in every square in Egypt.”

Long after the morning call to prayer on Tuesday, as streetlights 
switched off and clouds moved over the square, a couple in gown 
and tie joined protesters to celebrate their wedding. Nour Ramadan 
painted their faces, this time without charge. Protesters snapped 
shots with their cellphones. Others greeted the couple with 
boisterous chants. “Let’s go, everyone, to Tahrir,” they cried. 
“Tomorrow is the revolution of change.”

They passed displays of newspapers heralding the protesters’ anger 
at a prime minister they once claimed as their own.

“Tahrir Calls for Sharaf’s Resignation,” said one front page. 
“Tahrir Square Rejects Sharaf’s Speech,” declared another. One 
celebrated “the youth of the revolution,” a phrase that may, like 
Tahrir Square, suggest foremost an idea.

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