The Revolution Is Incomplete


It is tempting to read the photos of last week’s renewed conflict in Tahrir Square as yet another isolated round of violence between the Egyptian youth and the Central Security Forces. But this subverts the root of the rage in Tahrir, a rage driven by the premonition that the youth who ignited and died in this revolution are being left behind.

From the first days after the fall of Hosni Mubarek, the initial battleground of the post-revolutionary period was a struggle to control the language and imagery of the uprising.

Egypt’s initial post revolutionary battle was a discursive one as the post-Mubarek regime attempted to define what the revolution meant. Nile TV, the state controlled news network, ran revolutionary themed music videos featuring images of proud Egyptians waving flags in Tahrir Square.  Absent were images of the Hosni Mubarek. Absent were images of those cut down by sniper fire. In their place were smiling Egyptians waving flags. The revision was hardly subtle; revolution equaled patriotism.

Meanwhile, on the streets of Cairo, the revolution was quickly made into a marketing cliché as Little Caesars ran billboards with the tagline, “Defend the revolution. Down with the dictator,” beside their charming little white troll.

Attempts to build social progress on the shoulders of the revolution were efficiently derailed. To keep the meme of Tahrir from infecting the labor movement, Egypt’s Supreme Council of Armed Forces banned all strikes and demonstrations that would interfere with economic production.

On March 8th, when thousands of women and men marched against sexual harassment on International Women’s Day, they were attacked by thugs who assaulted women and called the men beside them homosexuals.

To further complicate what the revolution meant, Friday demonstrations in Tahrir made it clear that the leaderless revolution that had enabled the toppling of Mubarek, now suffered a message control problem.

On the Tahrir stages, Imams cursed the military, single fathers argued for increased visitation rights, Palestinians demanded statehood, Libyans denounced Gadhafi, protesters called for the trial of Hosni Mubarek and his NDP ministers, and activists demanded the release of the thousands still imprisoned from the revolution.

In the absence of a unified goal, Tahrir had become a post-revolutionary Lollapalooza and no one in the transitional government seemed to be listening.

In the foreground of these scenes, the most common question posed by Egyptians in the crowd, was ironically, “Are you for the revolution?”

The revolution had become a club, and in the absence of Hosni Mubarek, no one was quite sure what it meant to be a member anymore.

During this period of confusion, young democratic activists waited for the spoils of a revolution they once believed they had won, only to see that the same authoritarian abuses perpetrated under the Mubarek regime had resurfaced under the rule of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces.

Reports emerged that virginity tests had been administered to female activists arrested during demonstrations. Egyptian journalists writing about these abuses were called before military tribunals.

And in the face of these disappointments, the youth of the revolution have returned to Tahrir, week after week. They return because it is the only thing they know how to do, because it is the only space they can control, as signs of a larger victory suffer continued postponement.

“We are all Kalid Saiid,” was one of the rallying cries of this revolution. Saaid was killed on June 6th 2010 by the Egyptian police authorities who claim that he swallowed hashish during interrogation.

On June 30th activists traveled to Alexandria to hear the long anticipated verdict of those officers charged with his murder. The verdict has been postponed, so again the youth that fueled this revolution, wait.

On June 27th, the trial of Habib El Adly, the former head of the Ministry of the Interior, the acting minister responsible for the orders to shoot and kill protesters during the revolution, also had his trial postponed. Enraged families of the martyrs gathered outside the courthouse responded by raining a barrage of stones at the departing police caravans.

Yesterday, a Suez criminal court postponed the trial of officers accused of killing Egyptians during the revolution until September 14th. The defendants were released on a $1,800 bail.

While they wait and struggle, the activists grow increasingly isolated from an Egyptian public that has grown tired.

On the evening of June 28th, as a few thousand protesters in Tahrir clustered beneath a storm of rubber bullets, tear gas, and CS gas, callers to Nile TV criticized the protesters. Some called them “thugs,” a term used for paid goons for hire from Cairo’s slums. The Moslem Brothers denounced the activists, and a city that five months ago rose to revolution, stood aside as over a thousand were injured.

The next day, as fighting continued on through the morning, tents were raised in Tahrir, and the April 6th Youth Movement announced that sit-ins would begin at sunrise. Once again the tents of Tahrir arose, or at least a three or four of them, preparing to begin the revolution anew.

Later that afternoon, as doctors treated the wounded, Hillary Clinton announced that the US government would begin talks with the Moslem Brotherhood. Clinton affirmed that talks were in “our interest.”  Brotherhood spokesmen Mohamed Saad el-Katatni replied that the organization would welcome contact with the United States because It would allow the Brotherhood to “clarify it’s vision” of the new Egypt.

Four months after the fall of Hosni Mubarek, the winners have begun to take shape. The military averted the prospect of a Gamal Mubarek succession and maintained the power it has held since Nasser’s coup d’état of 1956. The Moslem Brotherhood has emerged from decades of persecution to potentially become new Egypt’s new powerbrokers, and the Salifist groups, once outlawed, are now organizing political parties. So far, Egypt’s revolution has bolstered the standing of all parties, except the young, secular, progressive activists whose dreams and courage first ignited it.