A Rant on Protests
It should be noted that this was written in the first week of May and so may seem a little outdated. As an opening entry. This isnt the greatest opening entry, but here we go…
In light of the recent events, it seems people have become a lot more forthcoming with their criticism of protests. I suppose it's always easiest to hit things while they're down (and already being beaten and jailed in a battle against appalling numerical odds – look here and here for pics and videos) . Several years ago, i was drawn to them and it wasnt long before my role shifted from observer to active participant. First let me clarify, that i do very much appreciate people's concern for my well-being but regardless of how many times you tell me you think it's dangerous, you're not about to change my mind. I'm not stupid, just passionate. I know the risks i take as do most other protesters. Perhaps some feel the need to risk, sacrifice even, themselves for the greater good. Despite this, on my part, at least, i'm not really willing to sacrifice my well being, unless i think it'll get something done.
Strangely enough, though most people probably assume i turn into a raging lunatic at protests (I do have a tendency to explode in rage when significantly irked like while driving in Cairo) , i am generally very measured, calm, organized at these events. I help the traffic by and make sure people dont get run over or beaten and am extremely polite to drivers, making sure they know why we're there and that we wont hold up traffic for long, give them advice on alternate routes. Sure, i almost invariably pick an argument with officers, preferably as high-ranking as possible. But i'm polite and friendly to the soldiers – they too are hot and tired, i'm sure horribly fed and the black on black uniforms and helmets cant help. And i drink lots of water.
I know they're useless for the most part. I know that a few hundred or even thousand (those few glorious days last September of success unprecedented in at least a generation) people marching around downtown Cairo chanting against one and all of the regime's ills will change little. And, as i'm sure all the realists would like to emphasize, sure the change was sparked from abroad. Sure, the Bush administration's drive for democracy in the middle east pressured their client, Mubarak, to release Ayman Nour and let us roam the streets, largely unfettered for the first time in decades. Perhaps. But those people on the street had to be there. And where is the international order now?
I know that the average man on the street thinks we're the rabble of Ayman Nour [wiki] (of course, the state has it that he forged documents necessary to form his party [wiki]), and is currently serving time in jail) or the Kifaya [wiki] party (which it isnt). Rabble.. One of my closest friends had the nerve to claim that we (although he did make sure to insert the mandatory, half-assed "there are exceptions") are "a bunch of life's rejects" and then took off from there with some more derogatory comments.
I know that what most people see is the traffic jams; the appointments they're about to miss; the ambulance lights flashing as sirens blare, stranded in the congestion. We try to not let that happen; try and cross intersections quickly; to leave an open lane. More often than not it's the security forces that block the roads off. They're well aware of what people will assume. And they never give up an opportunity to sour the events and people's opnions of us.
I know that the opposition in Egypt is pathetic and doesnt deserve to come to power. That, MB aside, no one has the organizational capacity to pose a significant challenge to Mubarak and Co. I know that all we have are some leftist remnants from the 70s (and their youthful heirs) who for thirty years have been claiming to represent the people with no connection in sight; and a few ailing wafdist liberals (and their breakaways); and few centrist Islamists; and sundry others, i'm sure. Of course so many of them suffer the same characteristics that plague the ruling junta. One only need look at the disgraced Noaman Gomaa (and i have my more personal experiences with the would be revolutionaries).
Then there's the youth. The youth that for all their passion and vigour; their ingenuity and resolve; for all that they could and would be are lacking in substance. And through no fault of their own. They were never taught to question; to analyze; to think critically. They grew up in a patriarchal society where the oldest male has the most authority; in a bureaucratic system that rewards time served and not merit. And yet, despite it, perhaps because of it, they found a voice. They poked their heads out of the cave but there was no one to guide them; no one to help them think. Of course not. Who could it be? The remnants of past generations who have failed miserably for so long? Their elders who have been awash in a lifestyle that forces them ever onwards, not allowing them a moments rest lest they not have enough money to pay for school and private lessons, bread and meat, metro tickets; that has fed them the same government rhetoric, the same lies, sold them the same sham hopes for over a quarter of a century? Of course they seem like they're uneducated, like dropouts. But believe it or not, these are the doctors, engineers, lawyers and writers that this country has churned out. This was their education. This is the outcome. You only see their faults more prominently because they're louder. Perhaps they did drop out. They turned around to face the system that abandoned them and are not afraid to stand up and say, I have been wronged, betrayed by my love, my country, my Baheyya, my Egypt. Cower in your cave and point.
Again, I digress…
I know all of the above. I know how pitiful the size of protests are, how negligible the connections with the man on the street, how laughable the prospect of mass riots and revolution, how abhorrent the alternatives to the current regime.
So why do i do it? Why do i risk myself out there on the street? Why do i go to illicit meetings? For that one person out of every fifty on the street that stops and wonders, that reads a handout. And for that one out of fifty that stop, that also listens, that asks questions, that takes my number down, or a website or an email. And for that one out of every fifty of those that actually gets in touch. For every person that i show, that things are not as they should or, more importantly, could be. For everyone i tell, look, there are people that are here for you. That want to make things better for themselves and for you. And for every other activist, whom i share an idea with, try an alternate solution with, extend an arm to in the in that moment of fear.
Like every other person, i dont have ready made solutions. And i dont claim to. I cant claim to know why things happen or how to change them. Maybe we should get off the street and read a little more, take a queue from our detractors. I think most of us try to but we are neither the scholars of the present nor the future. We dont have theories or models. We dont have economic formulas. Yes, we have emotional beliefs, utopian dreams, visions. And we fight for them. Maybe rather than cut us down, call us rabble, rejects or chaos-seekers; rather than deride our dreams, dismiss our drive, maybe you could lend us a hand, a book, a worldview, propose a solution. Hell, you dont even have to do anything. We'll try it for you and take the shit when it doesnt work.
Filed under: Activism, Cairene, Egypt, Politics | 3 Comments