Egypt in Flux

Egypt in Flux: Essays on an Unfinished Revolution

ADEL ISKANDAR
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 194
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt15m7fkt
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  • Book Info
    Egypt in Flux
    Book Description:

    No chapter in Egypt’s contemporary history has been more turbulent and unpredictable than the past three years. In a very short period of time, the Arab world’s most populous country has seen a transition from rule by an iron-fisted dictatorship to a populist uprising to military omnipotence to Islamist electoral victory to constitutional turmoil to societal polarization. Egypt’s iconic revolution has been neither victorious nor defeated. Egypt in Flux is a collection of essays on the political, social, economic, and cultural dimensions of change in the country’s ongoing revolutionary current. While written over a span of several years, the essays are timeless in the historical context they provide and their ability to chart the country's trajectory in the period ahead. From the conditions that precipitated the uprising and the eruption of national dissent to the derailing of the revolution, the author reflects on the pressing topics of the day while being mindful of the counterrevolutionary movements and the continuation of the unending uprising. From discussions about the illusion of fair and free elections, social inequities, and labor disparities to examinations of religion, sports, literature, and sexuality, the essays in this valuable and intellectually stimulating volume chart both the broad lines and the nuances of an unfinished revolution.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-354-3
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    It was midafternoon on Friday, June 18, 2010 in Alexandria and the sun was blazing overhead. Barely a minute had passed since we arrived at the corniche for the silent vigil. I was already extremely uncomfortable, perturbed, and paranoid. The police, across the street so far but keeping a watchful eye, were still within striking distance if given the order. This was unlike other protests in that it was quiet, somber, and non-confrontational. While this was meant to give us strength, we felt extremely vulnerable. We lined up facing the glistening waters of the Mediterranean Sea in a pose that...

  5. 1: The End Days
    • Reclaiming Silence July 22, 2010
      (pp. 11-16)

      Egypt has never been known for its quietness. The throngs of tourists that visit its capital every year observe the bustling commotion of the metropolis, the loudness of the streets, and the high decibel level of spoken Egyptian. Sporting celebrations and traditional weddings often erupt in ear-piercing festivities. Attempts at controlling gratuitous use of the car horn often fall on deaf ears. An exodus of Cairo’s affluent out of the busy hubs to new suburban residential developments is often rationalized on the grounds of seeking tranquillity.

      What is normal in Egypt likely qualifies as noise pollution in other parts of...

    • Geddo and Messianic Football August 5, 2010
      (pp. 17-20)

      A big story has monopolized the Egyptian press for days. Not the likelihood of war between Israel and Lebanon, not the country’s forthcoming water crisis and negotiations in Uganda with the Nile Basin nations, not the debate surrounding presidential succession, not the price of meat ahead of the fasting month of Ramadan, and not the Israeli siege of Gaza next door. Instead, the topic of conversation is Muhammad Nagi Ismail, the Egyptian football star commonly known as Geddo. The topic of his complicated and costly transfer from his Alexandrine club Ittihad (United) to one of the two Cairo giants, al-Ahly...

    • On Marina and Chávez August 19, 2010
      (pp. 21-24)

      I have not seen disparity between the rich and poor as much as I did in the South American cities of São Paolo, Brazil and Caracas, Venezuela. In the Venezuelan capital, rich communities have, over decades, effectively extricated themselves from society and now live on protected property away from regular interaction with the impoverished majority.

      With wealth pooled so tightly in the hands of a slim minority—who acquired their fortunes in a wave of aggressive neoliberalization of all industries, starting in the 1970s and continuing until the late 1990s—the majority’s socioeconomic conditions have deteriorated under a two-pronged failure...

    • The Simulacra of Religious Intolerance September 16, 2010
      (pp. 25-28)

      Tolerance is a very peculiar thing. Not only is it both a sentiment and a behavior, it is also characterized by its antagonist. To be tolerant, one must not only learn to accept the existence of one’s opposition, adversary, and counterpoint, but also learn that the intolerance of others poses the greatest threat. Should a tolerant person tolerate the intolerance of others?

      In history, most intolerance is eventually met with intolerance. Girolamo Savonarola, a radical Dominican cleric and ruler of Florence for four years in the late fifteenth century, had declared war on the Renaissance and all its symbols. He...

    • Learning to Mourn with the Poles November 11, 2010
      (pp. 29-31)

      It was a few minutes before noon on a chilly November morning when the professors and students from every department at the university, from mining to history, slowly filed into the majestically ornate Room 66 of the administration building. They had been asked to convene to attend a critical lecture about the overhaul of their institution of higher learning—among the most prestigious in the land. Their country, now under an occupying force, was about to undergo a forced ideological and cultural transformation and the new rulers declared the national education system was to be scrapped and replaced with their...

    • Never Say No to the Panda October 14, 2010
      (pp. 32-35)

      A characteristic of a global hegemon is its ability to exert influence and control beyond its geographic borders and natural proximities. America’s role in the second half of the twentieth century exemplifies this characteristic. A multi-site realist approach produced America’s brutal domination of Central and South American politics in the 1970s and 1980s, its economic mandates over Western Europe in the post–Second World War period, its stubborn foothold in Southeast Asia in the 1960s and 1970s following the Korean and Vietnam wars, and its expansion-by-proxy in the Middle East through unflinching support for Israel and corrupt dictatorships.

      Since the...

    • Best in Show November 25, 2010
      (pp. 36-38)

      Elections have always been more about performance than reality. Even in countries where public opinion informs and sways election outcomes, image is everything. In the United States, Barack Obama’s Democrats were dealt a heavy election blow earlier this month because the White House and the president’s party were unable to rebuff a public image of ineffectiveness and inactivity despite passing more significant bills than his immediate predecessor—from stem cell research to healthcare reform. Alternatively, one prospective Senate Republican candidate from Nevada, Sue Lowden, was defeated in the primaries when a candid comment she made about poor families exchanging chickens...

    • The Hegemony of Sharks December 9, 2010
      (pp. 39-41)

      The NDP government refused to accept international election observers under the guise of intervention and meddling in domestic affairs. Instead it has described the skewed High Elections Commission as a trustworthy institution that can protect the sanctity of the electoral process. Yet, thanks to new media technology and plenty of concerned citizens who dutifully documented and disseminated evidence of ballot stuffing and other violations, we now know the election was anything but free and transparent.

      The elections did highlight, however, the lengths to which the regime is able to deploy the nationalist card. Government statements like “We do not accept...

    • The End of Illegitimacy December 23, 2010
      (pp. 42-46)

      The newborn boy, Adam, had barely let out his first cry after leaving his mother’s womb when the firestorm began. News travels fast in the twenty-first century and the story of Adam’s arrival was online minutes after birth. Photos of him flanked by rejoicing parents circulated in cyberspace. Facebook pages and blogs teemed with activity, leaving the parents little time to celebrate.

      Adam’s father is Mohamed Zidan, Egypt’s national football team star. His mother is Stina Rohde, a young Danish lady and Zidan’s long-time girlfriend. In Germany, where Zidan plays for the club Borussia Dortmund, news of the birth was...

    • Coptic Exodus from Disneyland January 6, 2011
      (pp. 47-51)

      For decades, Egypt’s Copts have found a safe, comfortable, and joyous haven in the one place where dreams come true, where good always triumphs over evil, where justice is universal, and where all things negative can be banished with the rub of a lamp or a wave from a wand.

      The imaginary world of Disneyland has been a home for the Copts at least since the mid-1950s following the coup that overthrew the monarchy and ended the British colonial presence in Egypt. From that point forth, the discourse of national unity between Muslims and Christians became a façade for state...

    • Ablaze the Body Politic January 20, 2011
      (pp. 52-54)

      The powers that be want us to be passive observers. And they haven’t given us any other options outside the occasional, purely symbolic, participatory act of voting. You want the puppet on the right or the puppet on the left?” The young man utters these words angrily as he sits cross-legged on the sidewalk and douses himself with gasoline. “I feel that the time has come to project my own inadequacies and dissatisfactions into the sociopolitical and scientific schemes. Let my own lack of a voice be heard.” He lights a match and sets his body ablaze.

      This is perhaps...

    • The Gravity of Pharaohs January 28, 2011
      (pp. 55-58)

      The dizzyingly rapid demise of Mubarak’s exceptionally stable regime is a surprise to even the most seasoned analysts and avid observers of Egypt. For all those who speculated that Egypt was not Tunisia, who paraded the notion that its populace was notoriously apathetic, that the Arab world’s most populous nation had an aversion to revolution, or that the cowardly eighty-plus million had feared Mubarak more than their own starved bellies, the last couple of days have been a humbling time for those who offered such baseless prognostications.

      The government, with its brutal and abhorrent actions against protests on January 25,...

    • Dared to Defy February 12, 2011
      (pp. 59-62)

      February 11, 2011 is a monumental day in history. The resilience and resolve of the Egyptian people have shown the world how a revolutionary movement can rise up to sweep away all that lies in its path and create a new reality. I understand this sounds like hyperbole, but the past two weeks were not exactly a time for conservative assessment.

      With the resignation of Mubarak and the passing of all authority to the military, the people of Egypt have forced their will against all odds and in a manner quite unexpected to most prognosticators and analysts. The revolutionaries, from...

  6. 2: Revolution Interrupted?
    • On Constitutional Reform March 12, 2011
      (pp. 65-68)

      Revolutions are tumultuous. This is the first article in a series that will tackle the tumult by discussing the obstacles standing in the way of the full realization of the revolution’s goals. The series title should not be seen as a dismissal of the colossal accomplishments of the revolution but rather a desire to see them enshrined and sustained in the new republic of Egypt.

      Throughout the eighteen days of protests that started on January 25, Egyptians demanded the “fall of the regime.” And while February 11 was celebrated like any major feat, most realize that the end of a...

    • Liberating the Media April 1, 2011
      (pp. 69-72)

      On June 7, 1967, Egyptians nationwide sat glued to their radio sets listening to the news bulletin about a war involving many of their beloved sons. While most were anxious and worried, there was an air of optimism. As a patriotic song came to an end, the familiar and trusted voice of announcer Ahmad Said came on air. In his characteristically confident tone he announced, “The glorious and blessed Egyptian Air Force has forced defeat on its enemy. In the early hours of the morning, four enemy fighter aircraft were shot down and eight tanks destroyed. Our nation’s army has...

    • The Ax-bearers May 16, 2011
      (pp. 73-76)

      The night’s events in the neighborhood of Imbaba began with a Salafi flash-mob demonstration in front of the St. Mina church demanding the release of a Coptic woman convert to Islam. Christian and Muslim youths converged on the church to defend it against a possible attack. As the fires grew in the courtyard of the church, the voices of crowds reverberated into the night sky, “Muslim, Christian, one hand.” At the end of the night, the streets around the church had been turned into battlefields, blood had been spilled, and the smell of smoldering ash rose into the air. Fingers...

    • Revolutionary Fatigues June 10, 2011
      (pp. 77-79)

      It is one thing for a revolution to face off against a regime or counterrevolutionary forces; it is another thing when it has to confront another revolution. January 25 was supposed to be the ultimate supreme revolution among revolutions in Egyptian history. But that wasn’t the plan the ruling military council had in mind. While commemorating the protests and harping on about having protecting the protesters or being biased in their favor, the military has had to ensure that the memory of its very own revolution of July 26, 1952 is not forgotten. Unlike 1952, which the armed forces can...

    • Who’s Your Daddy? July 25, 2011
      (pp. 80-82)

      I am torn between two fathers. Both are from the same generation, both have roots in Upper Egypt, and both are the embodiment of fatherhood. One is a shared public father for everyone, and the other is a personal father. My public father is a leader who is often spoken of in the home, street, and school. He is everywhere, like nature. Like the water, air, soil, or rays of the sun. My personal private dad is different. In a moment, I can run into his bedroom.”

      Nine-year-old Nada Abd al-Qadir narrates a reality for generations of Egyptians. She is...

    • After Maspero October 15, 2011
      (pp. 83-93)

      The megaphone was passed to her not because she was a leader or a seasoned chanter. Sure, she was a recurring face at many of the Tahrir protests, but Heba was far from being an organizer. She was given the megaphone because all the other sloganeers had lost their voices in the last two hours of shouting as they marched out of al-Azhar Mosque toward Tahrir Square—the epicenter of the Egyptian revolution. Heba tightened her veil by tugging on the fabric until it reached her hairline, folded the corners in front of her ears, and brought the megaphone up...

    • Of Men and Hymen December 25, 2011
      (pp. 94-97)

      Military rule in Egypt came to an end last week. It did not come at the hands of a powerful political adversary, a populist uprising, an internal coup d’état, an armed struggle by an insurgent group, or a foreign incursion. It was not the result of a judicial ruling, a legislative bill passed, or an international human rights resolution pushed. Sixty years of totalitarian militarism backed by drummed-up, blinding propaganda all came crumbling down in the blink of an eye. In the future, don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that it was thanks to their backroom deal-making, alliance-building, heroism,...

    • The Lost Tribe March 1, 2012
      (pp. 98-102)

      Karim left Egypt in 1992 with no intention of returning. By the time the revolution erupted, almost two decades later, his Egyptian passport had long since expired, he had become a naturalized American, he had married a Venezuelan, and his Arabic was now hesitant and accented. Egypt had become a distant memory, a symbol of a long-gone past, a country associated not with fond experiences but with corruption, degradation, and ill fate. Like hundreds of thousands of Egyptians, Karim left his country during the Mubarak era on a one-way trip to a better life. And a better life it was....

    • The Three-Horned Bull May 30, 2012
      (pp. 103-108)

      Being a non-smoker in Cairo is a tiring experience. Never mind the inhalation of suffocating fumes from vehicle exhausts and hovering industrial smog or the annual mass combustion of rice chaff that sends a colossal billowing cloud over the city. Never mind the lack of concern and consideration for clean air in public spaces, even in the presence of infants and pregnant women. Never mind the fact that most locally manufactured tobacco products are notoriously packed with synthetic impurities and toxicants (as if tar and nicotine weren’t enough!). Being a non-smoker is most endangering when a stranger—say, a taxi...

  7. 3: Ad Infinitum
    • The Conscientious Objectors June 16, 2012
      (pp. 111-113)

      In August 1966, during the Vietnam War, when the United States was embroiled in a deep and lengthy conflict, a young fighter with considerable renown and popularity across the world became persona non grata for refusing to take part in his “national duty” and go to the front lines. Muhammad Ali was a rising star in the boxing world when the draft called him to join the troops in Southeast Asia, but he broke with protocol when he declared that war is against the teaching of the Qur’an, and put himself on a legal and moral collision course with the...

    • Morsi’s Debts June 26, 2012
      (pp. 114-117)

      For sixteen months, SCAF has tried to convince us we are indebted to them for the revolution. In reality it was the military council that was indebted to us for its newfound absolute powers. Today, there’s enough debt to go around. The Salafis owe to the revolution their historic political rise and their escape from the noose of Mubarak’s state security. The country’s liberals owe SCAF and the judiciary for the disqualification of Hazim Abu Ismail from the presidential roster. The military is indebted to the Muslim Brotherhood for their silent obedience throughout a year of violence against protesters and...

    • Year of the Ostrich July 1, 2012
      (pp. 118-129)

      In April 1954, less than two years after the military ousted King Faruq’s monarchy, it became apparent that the men in uniform would not be relinquishing power in Egypt. The Free Officers’ coup d’état paved the way for the constitution of the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), a supra-legal body with executive, legislative, and judicial power wielded over every branch of government including the media. Before the RCC decided to exercise its hegemony and muzzle any criticism in the media, there was a twenty-month period where Egypt’s press flourished. During this transition period, General Muhammad Naguib, the most senior officer among...

    • A Seven A July 14, 2012
      (pp. 130-134)

      When comedian Ahmed Mekky uttered the Latinized acronym “A-7-A” in his filmH Dabbour, he broke a taboo in the film industry. But because he spelled it out in English, its incomprehensibility to the censors and anyone with little online knowledge allowed it to slip through the ironclad grip of Mubarak-era cinema gatekeepers.Aha, the slang colloquial Egyptian word (also used in some areas of the Levant) has no specific meaning but is commonly used in versatile contexts not unlike the English exclamation “Fuck!” Yet the term, whose etymological roots are very difficult to disentangle, remains a salient part of...

    • Patron Saints July 23, 2012
      (pp. 135-138)

      Egypt’s revolution was leaderless by design and not happenstance—by will and not circumstance. But not everyone got the memo. Today, legions gravitate toward one notable or another, one visionary or another, one shaykh or another, one demagogue or another. Today there are those who describe themselves as “Hazimun,” the followers of Shaykh Hazim Abu Ismail, or those who consider themselves ElBaradei’s Ultras. There are those who see the Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide as clairvoyant and those who mourned for months the death of Pope Shenouda as if a connection to God had been permanently severed. Some flock after Shaykh Wagdi...

    • Tragedy and Farce August 7, 2012
      (pp. 139-141)

      In a span of ten days, Palestinians killed sixteen Egyptian guards near the border in their fight against Israel, Amr al-Bunni committed suicide by trying to collect his wages from Nile City Towers, and Mo‘az Muhammad lost his life to a burnt shirt in Dahshur. In Egypt today, tragedy and farce are two faces of the same coin.

      Intertwined within each of these deaths are layers of tragedy and decades of injustice. Yet all of this is lost in the noise of polarized perspectives and historic amnesia. So when Egyptian soldiers on duty near the Rafah border were attacked and...

    • The State of Anarchy August 10, 2012
      (pp. 142-145)

      Egyptian politicians, legislators, military men, clergy, entrepreneurs, and lawyers are now at each others’ throats over their access to the country’s higher state institutions, the privileges associated with these, and access to the things that make the country tick. What most of these groups don’t realize is that they are splitting a pie that has already been eaten. They are fighting over property that doesn’t exist. They’re trying to bottle water from a mirage. The Egyptian state has already fallen.

      Its collapse had been impending for much of the last decade. With the social contract between Mubarak’s regime and the...

    • New Face August 18, 2012
      (pp. 146-148)

      On Monday morning, August 13, Field Marshal Tantawi woke up and didn’t recognize himself in the mirror. Once the last man standing from Mubarak’s coterie, his day had finally come. On Monday morning, President Muhammad Morsi woke up and didn’t recognize himself in the mirror. Once the obedient, desperate choice of a perpetually vilified Muslim Brotherhood presidency, his day had finally come. On Monday morning, Egyptians woke up and didn’t recognize themselves in the mirror. Once bound and destined to live under military rule, their day had finally come. On Monday morning, no one recognized their own faces.

      Sociologist Erving...

    • Media Forms August 30, 2012
      (pp. 149-151)

      I am no wordsmith but I have a fascination with language. I am no grumpy grammarian but I admire clean prose. I am no adherent to structure but I appreciate good form. As a self-confessed news junkie, I spend many hours of the day sifting through content and coverage, perusing dozens of publications, and essentially devouring news in bulk. This mind-numbing overexposure to Egyptian news media has alerted me to a palpable crisis in the country’s journalistic form.

      While I am particularly jubilant about the Egyptian media’s newfound revolutionary impulse and the astounding margin of freedom already reached—taken by...

    • Lemons and Raisins October 17, 2012
      (pp. 152-155)

      Yassin and Ali, both of Generation Tahrir, were embroiled in a heated argument before the presidential elections. “Shafiq will be impossible to depose. He will have the legitimacy of a free and fair election, the old regime on his side, and all backed by the military,” pressed Ali. Yassin shook his head vigorously in dismay and rejection. “What the fuck are you talking about!” he barked back. “If Morsi comes to power, the Brotherhood will infiltrate all state institutions and with the power of religious language, they will win elections indefinitely!” They bickered on until the day of reckoning came....

    • Blood Ballots December 31, 2012
      (pp. 156-157)

      Ten days before the March 2011 constitutional referendum, hundreds of soldiers went on a rampage in Tahrir Square, tearing up protesters’ tents, arresting dozens, and torturing them on the premises of the Egyptian Museum. The protesters were opposing the military’s monopoly of power, the continued presence of old regime figures, and the hasty patch-up of the constitution. Blood was spilled and no one was prosecuted.

      Four days before the parliamentary elections, forty-seven protesters were killed, dozens lost an eye, and thousands were injured at the hands of the security forces on Muhammad Mahmud Street. Protesters were rallying against the police...

    • A Nation Derailed January 28, 2013
      (pp. 158-160)

      Just ten days before the second anniversary of the January 25 Revolution, Egyptians awoke to another railway tragedy. A train loaded beyond its capacity with security forces recruits heading from Sohag to Cairo derailed in the Badrashin area of Giza, leaving nineteen dead and over 120 injured, adding to the toll of deaths on train tracks in Egypt. It was only a month earlier that a rushing train in Asyut obliterated a bus full of children, killing fifty of them.

      In the late night hours of January 14, Badrashin was awoken by the news of the tragedy. Those who had...

  8. Epilogue
    (pp. 161-171)

    I met GemyHood in Casablanca, Morocco in October 2012. A jack-of-all-trades, Gemy (whose real name is Mohammed Beshir) had tried his hand at everything and seen plenty in thirty-two short years. He was a singer, dancer, actor, filmmaker, editor, author, activist, musician, teacher, poet, traveler, and obsessive football fan. Now known mostly for his solidarity with and writings on the Ultras—fanatical football fans whose passion for the game and opposition to its corporatization are no less strong than their antagonism toward the police state—Gemy has found himself embroiled in many of their battles.

    The Ultras fans of both...

  9. Key People and Events
    (pp. 172-180)