November 23, 2012

Egypt’s Revolution Continues: the Talk of Tahrir

Egypt’s Revolution Continues: the Talk of Tahrir

Click to listen to three middle-class “revoltionaries” with Chris Lydon renewed protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square (26 min, 11.8 meg)

Three Revolutionary Voices: Law Professor Hossam Issa; Engineer Mamdouh Hamza; and Architect Abbas Mahmoud Abbas. Photo Credit: Mark Fonseca Rendeiro

CAIRO — We’ve been in Tahrir Square all day till nearly midnight, recording the sound of Egypt’s democratic revolution coming back strong on the street against President Mohamed Morsi’s assertion yesterday of sweeping personal authority.  As someone just said to me: “The first wave (Jan 2011) dropped Mubarak. The second wave dropped the military. And the third wave (today) is dropping the Muslim Brotherhood.” Another says: “Say goodbye to the Square (Tahrir).  The demonstrators will not leave until Morsi leaves.”

This is a very big reversal of “the story,” which took the form in the NYT analysis today that Hillary Clinton had embraced Morsi in Cairo two days ago for brokering peace in Gaza between his friend Hamas and our friend Israel; further, that the US had its strong, safe partner back in Egypt, a recovery of the US old palship with the ousted president Mubarak.  

In Cairo from a score of people I encountered today, this is taken as incitement: “Hillary comes and gives Morsi a star they way they do with kids in kindergarten.  She gives him a green light to be a dictator, a fascist.  So the US has a new dictator in Cairo.  A new Mubarak? No! Worse than Mubarak.” Another version: “Every time the US government comes to Egypt, we get hurt.”

So a crowd of many thousands — festive, strong, various, good-tempered, completely welcoming to me with my Radio Open Source T-shirt that says (not that they read it) “Here to Listen” on the back — pretty well filled Tahrir by early afternoon, then grew in size and energy (reinforced by soccer-fan “ultras”) into the night.  “It’s the end of Morsi and of US policy,” said the respected novelist Ibrahim Abdel Meguid (who has published four books with the American University in Cairo Press). “The secular people and the liberals made the Revolution. The Muslim Brotherhood are thieves. They come in with the Americans, the Israelis and others and they take over… It’s the most important moment since January 25 last year,” meaning the start of the anti-Mubarak protests. “And it’s a turning point for Egyptian history — whether we will be Egypt, or be reduced to religious tribes from Saudi Arabia.”

“Not since the Pharoahs,” said a lively middle-aged civil engineer and architect, Abbas Mahmoud Abbas, speaking of Morsi’s claim of one man rule. “And the Pharoahs had to face judges in the afterlife! The Muslim Brotherhood goes by Mafia rules, exactly like the Mafia! This protest will go on all night. The people want to drop the regime. Don’t worry — Morsi must leave.”

It’s taken as given by everyone I met near Tahrir today that the US government helped engineer the election last summer of Mohamed Morsi and the elevation of the Muslim Brotherhood, long in outlawed opposition; and further that money and manhood are deeply engaged in the next round, too.

“The Muslim Brotherhood are capitalists,” said Said Abdel Nasser, who makes and sells fine jewelry in the tourist market here. “They don’t want Egypt to be a production nation. They want it to be a supermarket. They are castrating the Egyptian craft and industry, to replace it with new trade capitalism, without any industry for Egypt, just McDonalds.”

The demonstrators — for all their determined purpose — looked all day and night like a loose, inclusive, sober sporting crowd. “I see representatives of all Egypts here,” said the writer Ibrahim Abdel Meguid, who was being embraced continously as a cultural star and friend of the revolution from the beginning. “I see activists, merchants, villagers, peasants, actors and actresses, musicians and artists. But the majority is young men who made the January revolution, and many will continue.”

They were exuberant and good-humored today, happy to be taking President Morsi on directly. “The people want the regime to fall,” they chanted. Then simply, in a single word in Arabic, “Frauds… Frauds… Frauds!” One playful little band led a donkey around the Square, named “Morsi,” of course.

Nobody we met in the Square professed to have plan, or to know what will happen next. Tear gas was fired sparingly from the vicinity of the Interior Ministry in the early evening, but we did not see police intervening anywhere with the crowds. Might the Muslim Brotherhood attack in some fashion? Probably not, people said. Word was around that protesters in Alexandria had trashed, or maybe burned the Brotherhood’s headquarters there — and that the police had made no concerted move to stop them. “If the Brotherhood does attack us,” a 60-year-old demonstrator told me, “we will defeat them.” 

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  • Roger Owen

    Lovely to see the Riche again to hear it buzzing on such a big day for Egypt.


  • Dave Brown

    Christopher, please do let the people you speak with know that this power-grab has made the news back here in the USA and is not well-received. Reporting and editorial criticism is increasing in major papers.

    Unfortunately, timing it right before our Thanksgiving holiday has always been an excellent way for politicians to do something without being noticed.

    Stay safe; we sure got our money’s worth helping to fund your trip! Had sort of imagined the discussions would be more retrospective than in the middle of things.

  • Robert Zucchi

    Chris Lydon in Tahrir Square during a renewal of protests. That sort of puts paid to any lingering notion of this trip as a junket, a succession of cozy coffeehouse gabfests with the palavering clerisy, at a safe remove from physical confrontation.

    So President Morsi was commended by Washington for brokering a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel, after which Morsi asserted immunity from judicial oversight for himself, as if using America’s praise and support as a dispensation from having to govern democratically.

    ~No democratic constitution in the world would abolish the judiciary. The Muslim Brotherhood leadership is dangerous; they are extremists. This is a fight against fascism; against the one-man state. I have no other choice but to fight. (Prof. Hossam Issa)

    ~This is the second wave of the revolution. The Islamists use religion as a cover for their pursuit of power. People are cowed by this neutralizing association between religion and secular power. It’s like the Church in the Middle Ages … the cover of religion forestalls criticism. (Mamdouh Hamza)

    “What are Americans doing in our country, I don’t know.” Relocation of Palestinians to Sinai is the Israeli-American goal “to get rid of the Palestinian problem.” (Abbas Mahmoud Abbas)

    Chris Lydon quotes an artisanal jeweler, Said Abdel Nasser: “The Muslim Brotherhood are capitalists. They don’t want Egypt to be a production nation. They want it to be a supermarket. They are castrating the Egyptian craft and industry, to replace it with new trade capitalism, without any industry for Egypt, just McDonald’s.”

    With a mutatis mutandis lightly applied, Said Abdel Nasser has made the most succinct, the most forceful diagnosis of international capitalism in its present state of degeneracy that I have lately read. If war is too important to be left to the generals, our economic system is too important to be left to its apologists.

  • José Marques

    “This is a very big reversal of “the story,” which took the form in the NYT analysis today that Hillary Clinton had embraced Morsi in Cairo two days ago for brokering peace in Gaza between his friend Hamas and our friend Israel”

    Maybe it’s not a “big reversal” at all, maybe was part of the cease-fire deal all along.

  • chris

    Noam Chomsky writes on the morning of renewed anti-Morsi protests in Tahrir Square:

    Nice to hear about Professor Issa, and read the report with interest. I was just there a few weeks ago (before and after a week in Gaza), spoke to many people including some of the leading intellectuals and activists, and the more secular non-military presidential candidates, who could have won if they’d gotten their acts together. Maybe next time.

    They were united in saying that they’d given Morsi the benefit of the doubt for a few months but that he was basically reconstructing the Mubarak regime. But the audacity of this power grab might undermine it, I guess. Should be a fascinating time to be there.

    My guess is that if it comes to a confrontation, the security forces might be even more brutal than under Mubarak. At that time, there was a possibility of a shift of power with stability for the basic regime. Next time it’ll all be up for grabs.


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  • Potter

    it’s good that everything is still fluid, that folks are being vigilant, that they know democracy means participation and needs their consent lest they end up as before or worse. Things don’t change magically so quickly. Of course Morsi has to try, but there needs to be push back– the outrage I hear in these interviews. I think the analysis is a bit harsh on Hillary Clinton… but then again I don’t know. What I hear sounds like speculation, some of it too wild for me to believe( at the moment). Yes I know the right wing in israel would love to get rid of Gaza on Egypt and push the Palestinians into Jordan. I don’t think Obama and Hillary are selling them out making the outrageous deal suggested that uses the Sinai. I have no doubt our aid does come with a price.. but not a price that would cost us as well ( if it were even possible).

    “The Muslim Brotherhood are thieves. They come in with the Americans, the Israelis and others and they take over…

    I don’t see such an alliance or plan….

    Strength to the secular and the liberals … but they would be better off without conspiracy theories. They all will have to make a peace with each other, find some trust or balance, at some point.

    Stay safe! Thanks for Noam’s note.

  • Niall Dooley

    Shouldnt the show be called ‘an American conversation with middle eastern attitude’ ?

    ..every show based outside the US has been based somewhere in this part of the world. Why is this, may I ask.


    • Brian Treadway

      Not even close to true! Look further.

    • Brian Treadway

      If Pakistan is in “this part of the world,” Indonesia must be as well. But India? Ghana? Havana? Singapore?

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