Friday, 11 February 2011

Political Consciousness and the Egyptian Revolution

For years people said Egyptians had been depoliticised, excluded from the policy-making process for so long that they no longer took any interest. They  said the last three presidents of Egypt - Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak -- killed off the lively liberal political debate that Egypt knew in its golden age -- the 20s, 30 and 40s of the last century, until politics became just a branch of government They were right. But it's striking how political consciousness (a good old-fashioned word) can rise from the ashes like a phoenix when the people feel empowered. It's evident all around at every turn, staring one in the face. This afternoon outside the presidential palace, a group of counter-protesters appeared, about 20 of them against several thousand others demanding Mubarak resign. One of them had a cryptic banner which could be read in two ways: "Awake, youth of Egypt. Save the country from destruction. We will not sell Egypt." It was in fact an appeal to the protesters to go home and let the constitutional process take its course. One of the men in the group was especially agitated, telling the protesters that they were wasting their time and should patiently sit out the next few months while the regime made constitutional changes and organised elections. "The army has given its guarantee!" he shouted. "If they renege, the army will step in!" But the truly remarkable aspect was that instead of jeering at him or having him bundled away, a group of young men, some with 25 January badges, were standing arolund listening to him and arguing back. This was happening along the line, in several small groups. Far from being intimidated, although greatly outnumbered, the counter-protesters were forceful and fearless. Then in an overcrowded minibus, with four reckless young men perched on the roof as we sped downtown, a debate broke out in the back seats about the future of the constitution, parliament, the role of Defence Minister Tantawi and the role of the United States. No crazy conspiracy theories were aired, no unrealistic expectations, no sense that the future was won and freedom would not need to be defended, and no indifference either. When one of the young men said he was going back to Tahrir Square , another asked him why. "Because we still have demands that have not been met," he replied. It's not clear how many, if any, will in fact stay in Tahrir Square for any length of time, but the Egyptian people have certainly put the military on notice that they will be watching every step and answering back if they do not like what they see.       

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