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Bread, Social Justice and Russell Brand: an Egyptian’s reflections on Revolution

Egypt is moving in a downward spiral according to the first of our International Perspectives. Pandeia asked Shorouk El Hariry, an Egyptian student journalist currently living in Denmark, her thoughts on our theme of Revolution.

Around Tahrir Square, on January 25th, 2011, millions of “Bread, freedom, social justice” chants filled the streets.  After eighteen days of protest, a regime that had so persistently glued itself to presidency was over. Egyptians celebrated how presidency was replaced with military rule, and later cheered for how military rule was “democratically” replaced with religious rule. However, two and a half years later, on June 30th, 2013, even more millions flooded Tahrir Square again, ousting said religious rule, only to be replaced with military rule all over again, in a confusing vicious-circle manner that has left everyone – including the initial believers in revolution – wondering if revolting was such a great idea after all. Going from bad to worse, the only visible sign of freedom is utter and absolute chaos, with bread and social justice being unattained aspirations in the realms of revolutionary utopia.

Ever since the very spark of revolution, I have been a pessimist. I couldn’t see how, to get rid of all the mice, we burnt the entire farm down, and then attempted a second round at regime-building upon the not-very-frail ruins of the former one. I couldn’t see how having formal and transparent elections that attracted hundreds of camera lenses from all over the world could actually lead to bread, freedom and social justice. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe in democracy, and I’m definitely not advising anyone to refrain from exercising their political rights in the form of voting; however, I’d very much like to point out why democracy doesn’t always work out for everyone.

Bread and Social Justice

Upon arrival in Europe, I was showered with questions about the mess that is Egyptian politics. “Why are Egyptians always protesting?” “Didn’t you guys vote for this president? You can’t just decide you didn’t want him anymore” and other statements/questions of the sort were the most common. Before you judge what’s legitimate and what’s not, carefully consider the following situation:

Coming from Cairo, having to deal with pedestrian streetlights in Europe is quite the luxury. It’s rather beautiful, depending on how you see it, but it is a small jewel artistically placed in the heart of a lofty ring of slums. This picture is the closest to accurate illustration of what its society is like, knowing that both areas are perhaps only five-seven kilometers apart:

With this contrast, it is important to bear in mind that more than 40% of the almost 90 million Egyptian population is below the poverty line. Living in areas with absolutely no hint of infrastructure, you have uneducated, poverty stricken people soaked in the consequences of the government’s apathy and negligence. They grow to have no loyalty but to the banknote, because it’s what will keep them alive. Now try to hold properly transparent elections there. The result is what happened in June 2012: you have an uninformed citizenry waiting to be bribed to vote for this party or the other (hint: the Muslim Brotherhood or the former regime) – be this bribe money, sending their kids to public school, or even packaged sugar, rice and cooking oil. Add religious talk to the mix, and you have the perfect elections.

In the 2012 elections, the liberal, democratic, civilian (i.e.: non military) candidates who presumably do not use such methods did indeed get votes; however, they were so dispersed that the bigger percentage went to the representative of the former regime, former PM Ahmed Shafik, and to the Muslim Brotherhood’s party’s candidate, Muhammad Morsi.

If you had to choose between what’s bad and what’s worse, what would you do? Pick the bad you’ve never tried before.

Freedom

Many Egyptians would claim that freedom is the one thing that has truly shown its colours after the revolution, that they feel more confident and courageous to properly formulate an opinion and express it in the streets, be it through street art, underground music, or just protesting with banners and setting up camps in the middle of public squares. It is true, but so is the fact that military trial of civilians hasn’t stopped. It is also true that bloggers are still sentenced to jail for “insulting” those in authority and “disturbing general security”.

What’s even truer is that political satirist Bassem Youssef – the Egyptian Jon Stewart – had his show canceled ten minutes before its airtime on November 1st. Youssef’s show had become the one event, apart from football matches, gathering friends and families for countless cozy and sadly hilarious Friday nights; his satire brought him to fame after repeatedly mocking ousted president Muhammad Morsi, his party, and the so-called “Islamists”. Not so surprisingly, when Youssef decided to poke fun at the eyebrows-raising adoration that is being shown towards the military, his show was frowned upon. His work is currently under investigation, only because he saw this exaggerated portrayal of the military as the ongoing process of creating a new Pharaoh, seen in Gen. Abdulfattah Al Sisi.

Way to go, freedom of expression.

Russell’s Revolution

What inspired me to write this was Russell Brand’s intelligently phrased article on revolution, published late October in The New Statesman. While his view on voting seems quite the anarchic one, telling people not to participate in the hilarity the UK calls democracy, I see where he’s coming from. Nevertheless, I don’t see how revolting will take anyone anywhere – not unless they have an actual and realistic plan on how to answer the “what’s next?” pitfall that Egyptians – and other Arab Spring countries – have been repeatedly tumbling upon. Burning the entire farm to get rid of the mice doesn’t sound too reasonable, because then you’ll have to scrub the surfaces for an alternative, one that hasn’t made it to light yet. However, I highly encourage you to take a look at Brand’s article, take the time to reflect on your own country’s situation, and carefully consider the implications of anarchy, wherever you’re from.

And one last time: “Bread, freedom and social justice” – عيش, حرية, عدالة اجتماعية

Shorouk El Hariry

 

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