It’s been almost 3 months since I’ve last written anything. That is of course after over 2 years of very irregular and quite rare occasions of writing, within which I switched to this “new” blog. Time has passed. Looking back, it almost seems that I have been so uninspired that I have lost my voice.
I have been changing non-stop, perhaps faster than my mind has been able to grasp. Whether this change was positive or negative, I cannot yet tell. It scares me. Stopping and halting my baby (or grown up?) steps towards anywhere to evaluate this continuous change scares me. As much as I know I need to let everything go and be myself, I cannot help but worry about what people around me expect of me, and what I expect of myself. Now I’m not sure if it means anything to rant about social expectations and whether or not I, like you, should work on fulfilling them.
A few years back, I had begun a journey to find myself.. in others, in music, in movies, in books. This journey, I am certain, had begun farther back than I can recall, but it only hit me as I entered university. If there’s anything I have learned from university, which usually doesn’t feel like that much, it is to question everything and everyone. To question myself. If there’s anything that my involvement in activism and my rising interest in politics has lead me to do it is to appreciate differences amongst people, amongst ideas, and within my very own self.
Yet, all that aside, I had managed to convince myself that I lost my voice a very long time ago. Now, the reasons for that I’m not sure of. Some people I surrounded myself with definitely were a factor. Yet again, since my performance at a local event (Arabian Night) last March 2012, I suddenly felt my voice was coming back to me. Yes, I was still as nervous as I ever could be. And of course, everybody listened to my “nervous voice” as opposed to my “singing-in-the-shower voice”. But it all came back to me. I suddenly found myself being invited to perform at event after event. And I must admit, with music, I have found my inner voice. For that I am very grateful to every criticism I received, negative or positive, to every compliment, to every invitation, and to every facial expression I have laid my eyes on while I was singing… at home in front of family, with friends, at rehearsals, and during performances. These faces are ones I could never forget.
Now as I am writing this particularly to be published on this blog, I wonder why I am writing. What the purpose of this post is. Why anybody would be bothered to read it, let alone to react to it in any way. I wonder. Then I wonder if it even matters. If it matters to have a clearly written purpose. If it matters if this is read or not. If it matters if anybody reacts even if emotionally.
And I wonder if I even need to worry.
Over 70 football fans have died following violence in the aftermath of a match between ElMassry (of Port Said) and ElAhly held in Port Said, whose result was 3-1. This is a series of tweets I have translated, as written in Arabic by @EsraaFehead , explaining the Port Said massacre and who is responsible for it.
“Protesters in Port Said identified one of the thugs and he has been handed over to the Truth Investigation Committee. He has confessed that AlHussaini Abu Qamar is the one who paid him.”
“The information I have is that ElHussaini Abu Qamar, Gamal Omar and ElMiniawy were at ElArousa (stores) four days ago, and paid the thugs that day.”
“ElHussaini Abu Qamar, former member of parliament of the disbanded NDP, his name appears in every disaster, and those who get arrested always confess to [his involvement].”
“Meaning, those who were arrested in the acts of bullying/ thuggery immediately after the revolution have said that ElHussaini was the one who paid them.”
“Why, after an entire year, has he not been arrested, considering he has escaped outside of Port Said?”
“Who does he have at the Ministry of Interior or related to the Military Council who makes him not get arrested whenever someone confesses [to his involvement].”
“The deal was with thugs – that they get 600 thugs from ElMatariyya and nearby villages from Port Said to complete the number (600).”
“Samy ElRashidy is the fourth accomplice with ElHussaini Abu Qamar, Gamal Omar, and ElMiniawy; He [ElRashidy] was a parliamentary candidate in this year’s elections.”
While protesters were losing their eyes and gaining permanent disabilities, at the hands of SCAF, today’s parliamentarians and former lower house candidates chose to ignore the eyes and lives lost and focus on their task, or rather goal: to gain votes, to gain power. Not many took a stand against SCAF’s attack of Mohamed Mahmoud Street, Those who did have an opinion decided that the weeks of elections are not appropriate for protesting. Therefore, protesters should have exercised self-restraint and engaged in a peaceful form of self-expression.
SCAF has bestowed us with the terms of agreement for elections of a civilian representative parliament, even the presidential elections (coming soon to a theater near you). How can a parliament supposedly legitimized by people’s votes but more so by SCAF’s will (which decided the rules of the game in the first place) hold its main sponsor accountable for its responsibilities, let alone its crimes?
How can a parliamentarian commit to an oath that includes promising to abide by a constitution and a set of laws brought to us by SCAF and a non-elected cabinet?!
In the opening minutes of the first session of parliament, there was a salute to the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, of course before a salute to the martyrs could be made.
What we need is a civil council. It would hold the highest form of authority (derived from the people) that speaks for the revolution. It would be independent, “civil”, and representative of the revolution. Yes, I wrote it twice.
Isn’t the parliament civil and representative? Civil yes. Representative no. Why? Few to no candidates were genuine in addressing concerns of the revolution. Also, it cannot be representative if 10 of its members are appointed.
Any building with weak foundations will inevitably fall, with or without winds blowing through it. How can speaking of moving forward without mending our past and its foundations?!
How can we begin to discuss (possible long-term solutions to) poverty, unemployment, shortage of affordable housing, health care, outdated curricula in educational institutions, etc when those have have had blood on their hands from January 25, 2011 to this day have not been held accountable for the bodies of the revolution’s martyrs?
“How do you expect me to make a living?”
These were the last words believed to have been uttered by Mohamed Bouazizi before he set his body aflame on December 17, 2010. With only a cart of vegetables, the 26 year old supported his family of eight. Earlier during the day, he had gone about his daily routine only to be met with a police officer who confiscated his scale, allegedly slapping him, beating him, and insulting his dead father. When he went to formally complain to municipal authorities, they refused to meet him.
He took to the street, and sparked a fire that is still burning today. He has become a hero, a legend, and a symbol for what the world was bound to witness. Simply put, Tunisians, Egyptians, and Yemenis have overthrown some of the most long-standing dictatorships of the region.
Immediately following his self immolation, men and women from his small hometown Sidi Bouzid protested the injustice that Bouazizi experienced on the day of the incident. Demonstrations spread like wildfire across Tunisia, and following former President Zineldine Ben Ali’s self-exile, to Egypt and then Yemen. The next dominos to fall were former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, later followed by former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The cause of the protests was clear. There was a myriad of Bouazizi’s in the region, all of whom became victims of injustice every day more than the day before. Rising poverty rates, unemployment rates, illiteracy rates, corruption, police brutality topped with nearly non-existent political freedoms made the revolutions inevitable.
Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen have arguably passed through a year of relative progress. Tunisians have elected an assembly in November, which has voted for human rights veteran Moncef Marzouki as Tunisia’s first interim President after the revolution last week. He is due to appoint a prime minister from the Islamist majority party, Ennahda, while the assembly drafts a constitution.
About 2000 km away, Egyptians continue to fight ongoing corruption, oppression and violence, this time personified by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the army. In the meantime, parliamentary elections are currently in progress. Two out of three rounds have been completed and so far, the Freedom and Justice Party (the Muslim Brotherhood) are ranking quite high in this popularity contest. Other major players are ElNour Party, which follows Salafist ideology, the largely liberal Egyptian Bloc, and the Revolution Continues Coalition, which brings together Islamist, socialist, and liberal political parties. However, SCAF members have stated in a press conference that this parliament will not be representative and that SCAF holds all final decisions on all matters to be discussed in parliament.
In Yemen, current President Saleh is scheduled to leave his post and cede all his powers this December 23, following negotiations brokered by the GCC. His deputy would then assume responsibilities of the president until elections take place. In return, President Saleh is granted immunity from prosecution, which undermines the forming of a new non-corrupted justice system.
Precisely how far the people of Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen have come to gain their rights and privileges as citizens remains unclear. The initial demand throughout the mass demonstrations across the region had boiled down to a complete and grassroots change of regime, hence the revolutions.
Also witnessing mass demonstrations are Syria and Bahrain. Under a media blackout inside and out, specific details about demonstrations in Syria remain vague. We do, however, know that there are Syrians who are massacred in large numbers on a daily basis, with Al Assad’s regime showing no signs of collapse and no will for negotiating with protesters. In Bahrain, demonstrations at Manama’s Lulu Roundabout escalated in March, then quieted down following a serious crackdown by Bahraini authorities. Bahrainis continue to organize demonstration in protest.
Yet, evidence indicates that poverty and unemployment rates remain relatively unchanged. Authorities are still continuously abusing citizens. Human rights violations have not come close to reaching their end, and not without reason. So far, the journey has been a complex obstacle course, characterized by international pressure on governments in an attempt to secure foreign interests. Another factor significantly hindering progress is the absence of leaders or spokespersons to clearly list demands of protesters and to sit at the bargaining table when and if necessary. Furthermore, one of the factors that has proven to be a big obstacle is that most demonstrations are peaceful and most demonstrators are unarmed, and may be armed with nothing but rocks. Because a state, represented by the oppressive regime, is by definition the entity that holds a monopoly over violence, the basic survival and endurance of the unarmed protesters becomes a significant challenge. The figureheads currently in power in the region have become preoccupied with securing their own interests and are continuously trying to defenestrate the demands of the demonstrations. Instead of investing in the struggling local economies, heads of state are betting on suppressing the demonstrations and undoubtedly violating principles of human rights.
How long it will take for the revolutions to be completed is difficult to foresee. While a revolution may change a regime and its figureheads overnight, social change may require quite a few years to bloom. Any nonpolitical change needs to start from its seed to ensure that change is in fact deep-rooted. While Tunisia seems to be undergoing a relatively speedy transition, the year ahead of the rest of the MENA region will most likely be a continuation of the obstacle course that has begun earlier this year as signs of deep-rooted change and democratic transition seem obscure.
One year ago, Mohamed Bouazizi set himself ablaze out of frustration and despair. Today, economic, social, and political conditions in the region have not been fully altered to benefit their constituents and ameliorate their frustration and well-founded concerns. As the future of the region remains uncertain, a cool breeze is yet to blow strongly enough to put out the flame first lit one year ago. In memory of Bouazizi, the struggle to make a living remains.
On 7 October 2011, Amira Hass made her 9th stop of her Canadian tour at the University of Ottawa, organized by Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJMPE) and Kairos – Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, and locally sponsored by the University of Ottawa’s Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR). If you don’t know her, she is among those Israeli journalists who are sensitive to the Palestinian cause, and writes primarily for Haaretz. Though the main topic she clearly stated at the debut of her talk was “The Militarization of Jews”, her presentation, which was mostly based on personal accounts, tended to drift to and from the main topic. While the choice of topic probably intended to call for an emphasis on commonalities between Palestinians and Jews/ Israelis, I did not feel she succeeded. Here are some of my comments.
- When asked about whether she thinks a two-state or one-state solution for the future of Palestine/ Israel is more appropriate or more likely to unfold, she was critical of the emphasis on such approach to reaching a solution in the first place. While being critical of the approach holds some validity, I found it appalling how she claimed that Palestinians would never accept a one-state solution. Simply put, this is an unfounded claim! As far as I’ve heard, the majority of Palestinians are seeking a solution where they could sustain a very basic standard of living, whether living with or separate from Israelis/ Jews. In fact, much of the literature, documentaries, etc depict precisely that. And I will not make a similarly absurd claim about whether the majority of Israelis want either solution. It was quite irresponsible from a journalist to make such a claim.
- When asked about the recent demonstrations in Tel Aviv and their potential effect on Israeli social justice as well as justice for Palestinians, she did not seem too excited. Her comments gave me no other option than to believe that change in the case of Israel is too complicated to come from within. Of course, we know this is because the case of Israel is different. We also know that the cases of Tunisia and Egypt were “different”, until the revolutions surprised the world and actually yielded some results. I’m no expert on Israeli politics or society, but I don’t assume that it is free from criticism (and maybe more than that) by Israeli citizens. I will not be as naive as Arab (and non-Arab) dictators to believe that change cannot come from within, no matter how strong the larger/ outside factors seem to be.
- Most of the personal accounts that were provided were about Palestinian perspectives and her interpretation of them, positive and negative. If one intends to call for an emphasis on commonalities, it is expected that she also draws attention to Israeli perspectives and her interpretations of them. It is understandable that the very fact that she is an Israeli journalist perhaps sympathizing with the Palestinian cause is in itself a step towards commonalities. However, there was much more that Ms. Hass needed to draw attention to, considering she was addressing a largely non-Palestinian audience.
On a closing note, I personally sympathize with the realities that are faced by many Israelis and Palestinians, more particularly in the context of this talk, the paradoxes that are very clearly faced by some Israelis (who admit it)… as former refugees as well as oppressors.
On March 19, a referendum on recent constitutional amendments as devised by a committee of judges and lawyers will take place. In all optimism, this may be the first time Egyptians experience democracy. For this reason, I find it unnecessary to cancel or postpone the referendum as it will give Egyptians an opportunity to feel involved in the affairs of their country. It will instigate the sense of belonging that has been wiped out over the years. This is what Egypt needs rights now – democratic activity. Whether you support or oppose amendments, your points are valid and must be respected by others.
I, however, would vote no (if I were to vote).
This immediately brings me to my point. The approximately 7.5 million Egyptians living abroad, nearly 60,000 of whom reside in Canada, are excluded from voting for or against the referendum since there are no voting stations set up at Egyptian embassies or consulates, thereby depriving them from their right to enjoy a democratic Egypt. Also, the amendments de-qualify Egyptians with dual nationalities, or ones who are married to Egyptians with dual nationality, or ones whose parents have acquired a nationality other than the Egyptian from holding the office of President, a civil service position.
The concern about Egyptians with dual nationality is understandable and may be valid. However, the response to this concern must not simply be exclusion. Excluding the nearly 7.5 million Egyptians hinders the sense of belonging that a new democratic Egypt desperately needs. Excluding them is a direct way to doubt their loyalty to their country. In fact, if their loyalty is questioned, then the fact that they hold the Egyptian citizenship should be questioned as well, which does not coincide with principles of freedom, democracy and social justice, the key ideals that the January 25 Revolution stood for.
Egyptians abroad are in no way less loyal or less in love with Egypt than any other Egyptian. There is no rule to that. What about the corrupt Egyptians we all know who have lived their lives with behaviors and activities that have only harmed the country disastrously? How can Egyptians abroad be treated as second class citizens, while corrupt Egyptians are still freely roaming the streets of Egypt?
Priorities need to be reorganized and made clear. A constitution must protect the rights of all its constituents, regardless of their present location, religion, race, ancestry, etc.
This is one reason why I will vote no to the proposed amendments.
It has been 21 days since the historical day when the Egyptian people overthrew their now former corrupt “democratic” dictator – February 11, 2011. It took a swift 18 days, from January 25, for this revolution to finally start having concrete outcomes. The ouster of Mubarak. The drafting of constitutional amendments that cater the people’s demands (pending referendum result). The Resignation of former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik and the appointment of revolutionary academic former Transport Minister Essam Sharaf. And there have been indications that more is yet to be achieved.
All that aside, there have been significant changes within Egyptian society, most obvious is the shift from nearly absolute political apathy to a newfound interest in politics. For many many years, as long as I can remember, the one most notable characteristic that I believe has described a vast majority of the Egyptian people is political apathy. If not a vast majority, then quite a considerable and dominant number.
From a class perspective, lower classes were politically apathetic possibly because they were more concerned with day-to-day issues or rather, daily survival. People belonging to the tiny middle class remaining in Egypt had their worldly concerns, just like the upper class. School children were censored from politics in one way or another. Students had their school and university social lives and studies to worry about. And so on. Many Egyptians always had an excuse or a reason to refrain from being politically informed and/ or from being politically involved. More often that not, political involvement was discouraged. And the reasons for that are the very reasons why the Egyptian people have called for dismantling Egypt’s 30+ year old corrupt regime.
A decrease in political apathy is definitely a positive outcome of Egypt’s revolution, but not without challenges. In fact, it has proven to be quite problematic. Egypt now hosts millions of citizens who are forced to be engaged in politics, at least mentally – whether they really like it or not. Many of them have attempted to be involved in political discussions and arguments, and many have often failed miserably at either formulating a logical argument or expressing it. Friends have been lost, families split, etc as a consequence. To me, it is the system to blame, the system that had worked to keep its constituents far from any light that could lead them forward.
This sudden revolutionary shift from political apathy to its opposite is certainly a challenge that must be brought into light and must soon be overcome. In the most basic sense, being well-informed (and well-exposed) is the key. And this is a request to all Egyptians:
If you are passionate about something. If you (and/ or others) consider yourself an expert in a field, do tell us. Politics or not. Do tell!
(written on March 5, 2011)