Why Egypt’s Activists Are Clueless

Graffiti in downtown Cairo (Via)
Graffiti in downtown Cairo (Via)
Graffiti in downtown Cairo. (Photo via)

A few weeks ago I wrote an article about activists and their immense shortsightedness. Naturally, as is the case with most of the stuff I write, it was spur of the moment, offensive in its candor and bluntness. And, I would do it all over again, if I had to.

On a more constructive note, maybe a look into what could be done in the future might help. Since January 25th, 2011 the vast majority of what I have seen from my friends and acquaintances who are highly involved in the revolution – most of whom can be called activists – is constant complaining, protesting, rock throwing. Yet, I haven’t seen or spoken to anyone who has given a way forward out of this mess. I hear chants against the military, opposition to military tribunals for civilians, protesting the torture of activists, and the list goes on.

From where I’m standing, I think we (and when I say “we”, I mean the people who are reading this – not a certain ideological group, but people who have an education, funds, cars, homes, go to parties and want a better Egypt) have a messed up priorities list. Kicking off a revolution is, admittedly, a remarkable feat and I have to express my admiration to those who propagated it and followed through.

Revolution implies major change against long-established forces. And with established forces, we cannot go head on and oppose with our meager resources. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what is known as politics. How to get to where you’re going by going down the bendy winding road. And this is where our activists have proven they have no clue where to even begin.

Fragmentation and division is the rule of the day in post-revolutionary Egypt. (Virginie Nguyen Hoang/AFP/Getty Images )
Fragmentation and division is the rule of the day in post-revolutionary Egypt. (Virginie Nguyen Hoang/AFP/Getty Images, Photo via)

Ideally, what should have happened after Mubarak stepped down was to build consensus among all the players in the field who shared the same vision as to where they want Egypt to go, but had different ideas of how to get there. Regrettably, what happened was the complete opposite of that. All I saw was fragmentation that created more and more entities calling for the same thing, yet they are in disagreement as to how to get there.

Instigating change is a process. It does not happen with a stroke of a hammer. And that is the first thing we need to understand if we are to get somewhere. It will not happen by making revolutionary music, documentaries, painting graffiti or getting together to throw rocks.

You see, the system cannot be changed from the outside. Only from the inside. Making moves externally causes very limited impact. The January 25th revolution in itself was a limited movement that caused a tremendous impact. But, kicking down the door and forcing your way in is very different from claiming ownership.

How it will happen is by playing politics and entering the field. And when I say the field, I mean Parliament. Granted, the system of checks and balances is not exactly balanced in this country, but if you’re calling for democracy, this is the place to begin change. Egypt has a fairly acceptable constitution, which gives Parliament powers to keep the President in check and to initiate change through discussion and law making. And this is where the crux of the matter is.

Yet, we have been too busy running after the red herrings unleashed by SCAF, the media and whoever else there is on the scene these days, fighting trivial side battles that do not constitute a win, if they are won. The core is not there, yet everything around it is. The spirit, the music, the satire, the graffiti, the documentaries, the films about the revolution. Planets orbiting around nothing.

I’ve had four or five of my acquaintances – persons I have the utmost respect for – run for Parliament in the previous elections. And did they win? Hell no. Why? Because they never stepped out of the circle of “we” I mentioned earlier. I would bet they got 80% of our votes, but outside of our closed circle, they got zero.

Whose rights are activist fighting for? (Photo via)

Reason being: They never stuck their head out and tried to talk to the man and woman on the street. They never organized community meetings and found out what really mattered to the people. They never took it upon themselves to convince those who opposed them or to reach out and explain their vision to those who had not even heard of them.

You want to get somewhere? That’s how you do it. You keep building a mass that is representative of the people, not of the “we”. A mass that can become so critical as to have a say in where the country is going, not one that scores imaginary wins and celebrates it at a party.

The era of stone throwing is over and behind us. The era of a leaderless revolution is hopefully behind us. The era of idealism being the order of the day should also be behind us. It’s what got us into this mess in the first place. Idealism is nice and admirable. But without on-the-ground action and real grassroots level work, idealism is just a bunch of hollow slogans that will get us nowhere and leave us exactly where we are now.

I hope that those who took to the streets on January 25th, 2011 get what I’m trying to say here. There’s a way to make something happen. But in order for that to begin, there has to be a major shift in thinking. Lose the illusion that you will create change by sitting on your asses and counting on your friends to vote you into the next Parliament.

Instead, try getting a real campaign together. Go visit your future constituents. Raise funds to do that. Organize rallies. Give speeches. Listen to their needs and wants. Get a following of real people made of flesh and blood going, not a virtual Twitter following. Make alliances with those who you disagree with. Compromise a bit on your too-rigid idealistic notions. Stop getting dragged into every pseudo battle you’re invited to. And, finally, don’t play fair.

You wanted democracy. Well, this is democracy. Have fun.


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