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Transcript: Egypt: The perils of revolution
With so much still undecided, did Egypt experience a popular uprising, Islamic revolution or military coup?
Last Modified: 05 Nov 2012 12:02

This is the full transcript for the Empire episode Egypt: The promise and perils of revolution 

Marwan Bishara: Through blood and courage, tyranny was overthrown but it was only the first step. As unlikely revolutionaries vie for power the generals refuse to give up their hold on power and the economy teeters. We've come to Egypt to hear from activists, economists, politicians, and intellectuals to find out will Egypt falter? Or can the revolution accomplish what it started. This is Empire - Egypt: The promise and perils of revolution.

Marwan Bishara: Hello and welcome to Empire from Tahrir Square, I am Marwan Bishara. A year ago the young people of Egypt have achieved the unthinkable: they overturned decades of despotic rule within days. But ousting a dictator was only the beginning. Replacing dictatorship with democracy proved a far more complicated task in light of the Islamist control of the national assembly and the general's hold on power hardly the forces of democracy and freedom. In barely a year the sense of enthusiasm and collective inspiration across Egypt's revolutionary movement has given way to unease and uncertainty. But there is no denying the magnitude of what has been accomplished.

George Ishaq: We are achieved three items very important: we break the culture of fear, we obtain our right to demonstration, and third we obtain our right to criticise the president. Because you know in our culture the president is half president-half god.

Marwan Bishara: That president and his dynasty are of course now gone. But that doesn't mean freedom and democracy are guaranteed. Despite the success of the first wave of democratic elections. There is a sense that not everyone in society shares the same definition of democracy, lease of all, the generals. What is your position today on the role of the Supreme Military Council?

George: The SCAF you know they made a very fatal mistake. They are very slow, they are very slow. Everything is very slow. Without having any experience of the political issue. They know what happened in the military only.

Marwan Bishara: Even with profound political changes, the military still holds many of the reins of power and has shown strong and clear signs of not wanting to give them up. One of the leaders of the Revolution and staunch advocate of the move to civilian rule is Sheikh Moz al-Shaheen. The imam of Tahrir Square believes the revolution is nowhere near finished. The protestors want the military back in the barracks and believe the SCAF may be trying to strike a secret deal to share power with the Muslim brothers.

George: They believe about the Muslim Brotherhood when you support them and so we can help them and we can help each other. We can be stable in Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood will support them.

Marwan Bishara: And that way of thinking means attention now turns to the new political power players. The overwhelming electoral victory of the MB gives them a majority of the seats in Parliament and the clout to call the shots on economic, judicial and constitutional reform. The Brotherhood have been building a power base for years, recruiting young and old alike by providing food, education, and social safety nets for Egypt's poor. But the question is will the Muslim Brothers strike some sort of deal with the armed forces.

Abd El Rafea El Sayed Darwish: No, all Islamic parties are against the military now, all of them. Because they took power. They speak about power now, they have power now. But before that, no. You won't make something between them and the military council, the relation was good. After election, no.

Marwan Bishara: But not everyone believes it's that straight forward. Many who took part in the Revolution believe the political motives of the Muslim Brotherhood are deeply suspicious.

Nabil Abdel Fattah: The military and the extremists want to contain the revolutionary movement? Of course. Contain and overcoming the new generations. Controlling the new generations of the middle class, producing the same political rule and Egyptian political system.

Marwan Bishara: What role then do the revolutionaries play?

George Ishaq: You know we have to interfere in this moment as a secular, to support the secular action. If you read the situation like that, and you don't interfere, it will be disaster.

Marwan Bishara: The motives of the military and the objectives of the Islamists are major questions which have still to be resolved. What kind of deals are being struck to preserve the status quo and why is it that those who last year were firing the shots, are still the ones this year who are calling the shots.

Marwan Bishara: For the first hand perspective on the Muslim Brotherhood's vision for Egypt I sat down with the group's strong man Khairat al Shatter. It's been a year since the removal of Mubarak, what's your assessment on this year?

Khairat al Shatter: My assessment of the past year is firstly the Egyptian people have succeeded in getting what they wanted and forcing Mubarak and his regime to leave. Secondly, the regime is gone but its culture and regulations still need to be changed. And thirdly, the spirits of the Egyptians were unified to topple Mubarak on the 25th of January. Now they have weakened."

Marwan Bishara: Why did it happen?

Khairat Al Shatter: The revolution happened because the toppling of the Mubarak regime was a common goal for all Egyptians. When we start talking about changing politics, whether it’s a presidency or a parliamentary system, common or congressional, inevitably there will be differences and disagreements between parties.

Marwan Bishara: Let's talk about that. I was walking around Tahrir Square over the last few days and I noticed that some people, maybe perhaps some minority for now almost think of you like the national party.

Khairat Al Shatter: People referring to us, it's not true. The national party was mainly established based on benefits. Whereas the Brotherhood can be defined as having, to some degree, a vision to build our country based on Islamic principles. Like anyone with a vision to build their country, they endorsed the ideas of capitalism, liberalism or socialism. We have the right too, to have our vision of Islamic principles. An important thing about this vision is the we're not trying to impose it on everyone. It's there; people can either take it or leave it.

Marwan Bishara: You spoke about the nature of the brotherhood, and you said that it is an Islamist movement that has Islamic solutions for that society. Do you think that you are still a revolutionary movement or have you become a revolutionary movement or are you a reformed movement? "

Khairat Al Shatter: Our principle is based on an indefinite, peaceful change, starting with building the individual, then the family, then the people, then the government, to democratically represent these people. This is our main principle. Now what happened on the 25th of January was the result of oppression and corruption by Mubarak's regime. So as a result, we rebelled against this regime. In regards to our principles for change, we will go back to our original principles, which are persuading people with our vision.

Marwan Bishara: But you have been against the recent movements on the streets especially civil disobedience.

Khairat Al Shatter: We are neither for nor against these strikes, we're saying two things. First we are with the people in demonstrating peacefully, we support their right in expressing themselves even if we disagree with them we reject any forceful confrontation with them. Second every time the people have demands and take to the streets, we cannot go with them. We are a big movement and have to have a clear strategy, and evaluate the situations based on our strategy. So if we're required to go down and protest, we will.

Marwan Bishara: But they lost patience a number of demands, basic demands, were not fulfilled.

Khairat Al Shatter: I want to be clear about something. The military establishment has been ruling Egypt, directly or indirectly for almost sixty years. So dealing with this establishment and curing it will take some time.

Marwan Bishara: But how are you going to do that, through pressure? Through cooperation? Through complicity?

Khairat Al Shatter: There is no wisdom that agrees with violent confrontation that results in bloodshed. As for the political confrontation, we must use dialogue.

Marwan Bishara: Would you go down to the street again?

Khairat Al Shatter: Most likely, that option is always on the table.

Marwan Bishara: One of the most important challenges facing Egypt today is the Constitution. Are you about to do a Constitution of the majority or a consensual constitution?

Khairat Al Shatter: Our main aim is to get a majority agreement, but not the majority alone. However we understand it's impossible to get everyone to agree. For example, economically the majority of the right wing comes and demands a free economy, and then the left wing comes even if they're only 1per cent of the people, and demands a socialist economy. So how are we going to agree? It's impossible; you have to decide on one.

Marwan Bishara: But there are slogans of the revolutions that were very clear demands.

Khairat Al Shatter: I don’t reject social justice. Imagine the opposite; I want to assure everyone that we don't have any issue with most of what's on the table. If there is a problem, it will be fitting the military within the Constitution.

Marwan Bishara: It's a central challenge.

Khairat Al Shatter: Yes, some might think the problem might be in citizenship, freedom of belief, etc. This is the stereotype people had about us, and they use it to draw their own conclusions and maybe disagree within the Constitution. But on the question of human rights and citizenship I personally and on behalf of the Brotherhood, Freedom and Justice, we have no problem with these issues.

Marwan Bishara: For our international viewers, the question is, it’s not just exactly a question of numbers, how much of a majority or how much of a consensus, the question is will this be an Islamic majority or there will be a consensus with secular and civic forces.

Khairat Al Shatter: Obviously. Our election coalition didn't include Islamic parties like Al Noor and on the other hand we had secular parties so it's clear.

Marwan Bishara: Do you expect to go into a coalition government with the Salafists in the future?

Khairat Al Shatter: No, we are two distinct Islamist parties. The idea of an Islamist coalition is unacceptable for us and doesn't exist. We are saying a broad coalition government representing all parties that win seats in the Parliament, open to all parties with no exceptions with the possibility of representing people previously represented in government.

Marwan Bishara: Would you support a military president, or would you only insist on a civic president.

Khairat Al Shatter: No, let me make something clear. I don't want to reject a military or civic president on principle, now and after 60 years of military ruling it will be difficult for the Egyptian people to accept a military president.

Marwan Bishara: My last question, do you expect to be partners with the military in that this next transition period or you expect more tensions and perhaps more political confrontation with the generals?

Khairat Al Shatter: We're trying to deal with the issues in a peaceful manner and with as broad agreement as we can. This doesn't mean sharing posts with military generals but we had a vision as Egyptians that we want to reach a real democratic ruling with different institutions representing the people. And to ensure the ranking is done a peaceful transfer of power, an opportunity available to everyone to benefit from what their country can offer.

Marwan Bishara: But the problem here is that the Islamists and the generals are not exactly known to be democrats.

Khairat Al Shatter: We want to ensure the democratic system. The issue isn't just the president or the parliament. We mustn't forget that there are formal military generals, ministries, committees, mayors, deputies, therefore to fix these problems to an acceptable level for the people will certainly take time. And applying pressure as long as it doesn't lead to violence and bloodshed.

Marwan Bishara: That's a huge challenge.

Khairat Al Shatter: Yes reform, but bear in mind that both wisdom and maturity is needed in dealing with this issue. When we felt these principles were being threatened we took the streets in millions not caring about the military or anyone else. Now they want the government to remain until June 2012, and we're saying we do too in the country's interests. Today it's in the Freedom and Justice's interests to delay in order to find serious partners. We must delay but it's in the country's best interests.

Marwan Bishara: On this sobering note, thank you. That was the Muslim Brotherhood's view, but there are many other voices in Egypt clambering to be heard. For that I sat down with three activists to gauge the political mood in the country. Mahmoud it's the revolution of the youth. The youth are still on the street, they're back in the square. So what's your assessment, has this been a big disappointment?

Mahmoud Salem: Recently speaking it's been about 270 days and until now there hasn't been a single conviction or account of accountability that has happened towards people who killed revolutionaries in the street. That hasn't been any kind of real accountability or attempts to reform the Ministry of Interior, or serious ones at least in over a year. There hasn't been until now, there are many people who were involved in the former regime that are somehow still in government or are running around doing whatever. And you have transitional period, that was supposed to end in September and somehow got extended until 2013, and it took lots of people going into the streets and getting killed in front of Mahmoud for people to finally be like okay maybe June 2012.

Marwan Bishara: So is your generation running out of patience?

Mahmoud Salem: Yeah my generation is a generation that was running out patience before so for them, any kind of speedy movement in terms of what needs to be done is essential. Because they're the ones who are going to carry the weight of this country in thirty years.

Marwan Bishara: Ahmad, do you think there is such a thing as a youth movement that's started the revolution and now has been thrown out of power?

Ahmed Salah: This generation has made the revolution and starting asking for the change. So we all want the change not only our generation, but these generation and other generations. So let's talk about the change and are there any possibilities that there is a change or not. And what do we really want to change for the last 130 years since Britain has invaded Egypt we have a freely elected Parliament. This is the first time, so this is a real accomplishment.

Marwan Bishara: Dina, what I hear now from Mahmoud and Ahmed is a revolutionary impatience and a reformist patience. What's your take on this?

Dina Zakaria: It's not to be patient or to be impatient but it’s a global point of view what people really need. The young they have power and that's the right, and I'm one of the young actually. I'm one of the protestors who was in Tahrir Square I know what we need, I know what we feel. When we were participating in the Revolution we wanted things to do we wanted things to happen fast because we wanted to get rid of Mubarak. And then we started after the Revolution when he stepped down how to rebuild and how to destroy the whole regime. So that's the main challenge now.

Marwan Bishara: Mahmoud, different shade from me, how much of it has been a revolution, how much has been a coup d'etat?

Mahmoud Salem: That's exactly my point. The military's job is to protect the warrior's you know they're the security guards at the end of our very nice villa that is supposed to protect. it's not supposed to tell me how to live, how to conduct my affairs, not supposed to punish the friend of my son who caused lots of raucous and throw him into a room and beat him. It's not supposed to shoot my son if he ruins something in the villa. And I should have the absolute right and ability to fire this person if push comes to that. When you wanted to have this revolution you wanted freedom of expression, you wanted freedom of religion, to go and pray in your mosques without anybody telling you and you wanted freedom from fear. And the fact that they're shouldn't be fear, there shouldn't be secret apprehensions, there shouldn't be torture. There shouldn't be killing of protestors without any kind of accountability or trial and this has not happened.

Marwan Bishara: Let's get to the slogans of the revolution.

Mahmoud Salem: So the slogans of the revolution were quite simple right. Freedom and social justice.

Marwan Bishara: And we have now the leading parties we have Justice, Freedom, and Noor, light onto the nation.

Mahmoud Salem: No breath point, there should have been a breath point. Wallahi that's why they have won lots of elections (laughter).

Marwan Bishara: So for you, is this satisfactory? You think now we have an elected parliament and we have justice and freedom and we have Noor party.

Mahmoud Salem: Personally speaking I find no problem whatsoever with the current makeup of the Parliament. People chose what they chose and that's fine the fact that you have democratically elected institutions does not mean that you have democracy. The issue is the institution is the start but the practice is what counts. So naturally if there's going to be a parliament there could be protests against the parliament and the parliament is not supposed to get mad over the fact that there are protests against it. They could call for more patience they could say that what's happening is being unfair completely their right as well and those people have the complete right to go and protest against it.

Marwan Bishara: I guess then Noor party and the justice and freedom party have accepted the democratic rules of the game or not.

Dina Zakaria: Of course, before the election started we said that we will accept the results whatever is going to happen because we want to establish first state of laws, state of freedoms, state of respecting people's demands. So we said from the very beginning. And now I want to say that we really appreciate protestors demands and action right now specifically I’m talking about peaceful way to express your demands.

Marwan Bishara: Don’t you notice that every time that some of these concessions made by the military have been done under pressure from the streets.

Dina Zakaria: We have many ways to do that pressure. One of the ways is to protest in the streets and we have another diplomatic ways. So maybe it's not so vivid for people but it's been done. It's how to do it.

Marwan Bishara: Which is what?

Dina Zakaria: To call for a delegation, to go and to talk and to try to use pressure because we have now the power of people voters. So I have now this power, before I didn't have it. So let's do it, let's take people power so that we can talk about by using this power so that's another way to have pressure.

Marwan Bishara: For you as a, let me call you, a younger member of the Salafi movements. How does it feel for you now to keep talking about democracy for our first day of democracy? This is not exactly part of your discourse in the past. Do you feel there is a transition now in the movement?

Ahmed: Let me tell you something. If I'm talking about democracy, just like freedom. You don't have the freedom to be for example to go naked in the streets. You don't have the right. There is a law even in America that's called indecent exposure that will judge you if you did this. All right. So what do you mean exactly by exactly by freedom? Democracy is to make legislation alright those misfits with the Quran.

Marwan Bishara: Mahmoud tells you democracy is the root of democratic values.

Ahmed Salah: No there are two definition for democracy, please let me complete, this is a very important issue. If you said this is only the democracy, we disagree with this meaning. But if you're talking about the mechanism of democracy, that is being practiced now, alright, which is the elections, how to choose the president, which is the consultancy, which is the very very important rule in Islam and it has been mandated on Muslims to take a consultancy called the shura. The president has no right to take.

Marwan Bishara: Hold on Ahmed hold on, explain to our international viewers what do you mean exactly. Is the last word to the people or is the last word to the sheikhs who enter shariah.

Ahmed Salah: No, this is a different understanding. I understand your question but the problem is-

Marwan Bishara: But you're not going to answer it?

Ahmed Salah: I will answer it. The problem is make legislation whatever you want, but on one condition, that does not conflict with the Quran.

Marwan Bishara: Who decides that? Who decides because?

Ahmed Salah: This is our ideology.

Marwan Bishara: We're going to have to round it up. Mahmood, Dina, Ahmed thank you for joining us. We need to take a short news break but when we come back we look beyond politics into the long term implications of the revolution on Egypt's identity and culture.

Marwan Bishara: Welcome back, beyond Egypt's immediate political and security concerns and its economic preoccupations new questions are being posed over the very nature of the state and its identity. Will the conservative and ultra conservative block now occupying two thirds of the majority in the people's assembly what will become of Egypt’s open and diverse culture?

Marwan Bishara: For the Arab world, Egypt has been a beacon of culture for centuries. But could this secular cosmopolitan identity be about to change with the sudden entrance on the political scene of ultra conservative Islamist parties?

Nader Bakkar: To separate Islamic religion from the state is something that is refused. Islam and Islamic shariah will be above all. And will be above all, the rules.

Marwan Bishara: One of the unforeseen consequences of Egypt's revolution is the emergence of the Salafis into mainstream politics. Something they have always shunned.

Dr. Ramy Aly: They didn't accept the validity of the political process in Egypt. Because they felt that it was governed or framed in democratic and secular norms and that their project was about the establishment of shariah law.

Marwan Bishara: With the revolution, all of that changed, the Salafis formed the Noor party and went on to win a quarter of parliamentary seats.

Nader Bakkar: For me it was a surprise that external observers were so much surprised about our victory. We had a lot of work the social responsibility with our people in the past took years. So we rebuilder in this strong grounds and we formulated our party.

Dr. Ramy Aly: The Salafis have been on the ground for decades now. They completely boycotted the political process, but that doesn't mean they boycotted people. The Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis were still opening hospitals providing people with ovens and cows and schooling and clothes and they kind of reaped what they sowed.

Marwan Bishara: The Salafi principles are based on an ultra-conservative interpretation of Islamic traditions and practices dating back to the 7th century. The movement originated in the Gulf States an important source of funding for the Noor party. Outside the mosque, Salafis use cassettes, radio stations, and satellite television to spread their message. Attracting young and old, Islamist parties who promise a more ethical approach to politics then their often corrupt predecessors are a growing trend across the wider Middle East. Their popular success is proof that Egyptians too want religion and morality to play a greater role in society.

Dr. Ramy Aly: I think there's no denying that what we've seen taking place in morocco, and Tunisia and Egypt lends to kind of understanding that there is a resurgence of Islam. It is a religious society, and that's not something that just happened last year.

Marwan Bishara: And in one more than a quarter of the popular vote they will now play an important role in writing the constitution defining society and politics in the new Egypt. But how committed are they to the democratic process? In one of the first sessions of Egypt's new parliament, the Salafis broke into prayer. And was shouted down by the Muslim brotherhood. Salafi politicians tried to sound reassuring.

Nader Bakkar: Democracy is conjoined with Islamic principles; we will give everyone the freedom to express his feelings, his point of view.

Marwan Bishara: Whether or not they honor these promises will have a huge impact on Egypt's identity.

Dr. Ramy Aly: I don't think that the Salafis will determine the long term future of the country. There is a generation of people far younger, than those representing them in the Parliament, who have had a taste of freedom, who have had emancipated themselves. And that generation is not going anywhere.

Marwan Bishara: Having heard the politicians and the activists, we broaden our discussion with three of Egypt's leading intellectuals: Ahdaf Suway, Khalid Fahmy, and Azidin Shukry regarding the promise and perils of the Egyptian revolution. Welcome to Empire. I guess welcome to the program. Let's start by looking retroactively at the last year; the youth and the people basically are still in the streets. The most unlikely results of the revolution for democracy and freedom are the military establishments and the Islamists, basically the Salafists that we watched before are probably the most vocal today. What does that mean, what does that tell you about the Revolution Khalid?

Khalid: I think the most vocal still is what I would call the Tahrir crowd. They're not the most powerful, but they're the most vocal in terms of the originality of their ideas, of the excitement that they have instilled in society at large. Of the new ideas that are circulating mostly because of them. The scene has really radically changed. Whatever SCAF and the Islamists are saying is very old stuff, nothing new. And in a very important sense they are panicking because of this. Because of the slogans and the jokes and the songs and the art that has been produced by this revolution is really unprecedented. And in that sense things have really changed, the question however politically these youth groups are not really those in power.

Marwan Bishara: Seems to me, an outsider, the Islamists and the general are still leading the way.

Ahdaf: Marwan I think what this tells us about revolution is really how very brave and how very determined it is. You know the military was always the heart of the regime. And for them to leave power as we want them to do is like an enormous and almost unthinkable task except that it is thinkable and that they are going to have to do it. And we've known for a long time now that if you have elections you're going to get the Islamists.

Marwan Bishara: Perhaps the Brotherhood wasn't a surprise but certainly the Salafists getting a quarter of the vote-

Ahdaf: But the thing is, you know. The Salafists had always said that they are not political that they would not enter into politics. And maybe that is why they actually have such a large constituency because people were drawn to them because they lived the private moral life and so on. But the fact is they are very very numerous on the ground. So if every Salafi, and they are very well organized and they listen and obey, if every one of them went out and voted, then you get the results we've got.

Marwan Bishara: Azadin do you think we're still on track even though for example the Hizb Al Noor which is the political arm of the Salafi movement is leading something like the education committee in parliament.

Azadin: I frankly don't think that there is a track, I think what this says about the revolution is that it is simply Egyptian. And I'm only half joking. If you look at the traffic in Cairo, this is how it works. The revolution is unfolding exactly in the same way. So you have-

Marwan Bishara: Chaotic?

Azadin: Chaotic and rather messy. But so far without major disasters happening. Obviously the fact that the military are still at the helm and that they're surrounded by 70per cent Parliament 70per cent Islamist Parliament says a lot about those who contributed most to the revolution are not in power.

Marwan Bishara: So the next phase doesn't worry you, it is those unlikely democrats being at the helm.

Marwan Bishara: The worrying side is obvious you have Salafis leading the education committee as you said, you have all those signs you can see in the parliament are worrying. Because frankly those are not the signs that were in Tahrir Square but all of this in my view, we're still at phase 1. Where we're fighting the authoritarian regime that is still entrenched in state institutions. Once this struggle is over once the authoritarians are finally out, once someone else is at the helm, and then the real struggle will start. Then the real revolution if you want will begin to unfold.

Marwan Bishara: Ahdaf, there seems to me, Azadin's authoritarianism that he talks about is not only in the institutions, it is now in society, it is now in the political parties. Does that worry you?

Ahdaf: What the revolution has done is it has been very anti-authoritarian and the people have now rejected authoritarianism. Now what's very interesting of course is that this is something that authoritarianism is a value and a way of behaving that is shared by the military and the Islamist you know organizations. In fact, I think that puts them both against the spirit of the revolution, and the spirit that taking hold in the country.

Marwan Bishara: As an overall, do you think there is authoritarianism in the makeup of religiously oriented political party or not?

Ahdaf: What I know is that there is authoritarianism in the Brotherhood and in the Salafis and that is the central reason why many of their young people have been leaving them.

Marwan Bishara: I guess Khalid this speaks to your point, so is there still hope from this horizontal relationship with the youth could they still reverse the tables against the other forces, the unlikely democrats if they will?

Khalid: They already have. There is something so deep; it goes beyond politics, and elections and parliament. This deeply irreverent, cynic- not cynical actually-

Ahdaf: It's disrespectful.

Khalid: it's disrespectful. It's disrespectful

Ahdaf: In a good way.

Khalid: In a good way and in a peaceful way. They've been, they've lost life and limb, they've lost loved ones, and they're fighting against really huge odds. And despite all of this they've maintained a peaceful, humorous, very, very, self-confident; you have to be in Tahrir. The most amazing thing, it’s nearly palpable to see and to feel this enormous sense of self confidence, so in that sense things have changed. This is a youthful country and this youthful generation has been disenfranchised for such a long time and for these people to- in my minds, they are the ones who set the agenda.

Marwan Bishara: Azadin, then it seems to me there are two cultural forces if you will, are on the rise. There is the youth with its own ideas and genre if you will and there is the new Salafists and the other Islamists around the block. How do you think this will evolve?

Azadin: I think the two forces we have are not the Islamists and the youth; they're simply the youth and the very old people. It's the older culture.

Marwan Bishara: And it's generational.

Azadin: It's not an age issue, it's a mindset. The older mindset, the older culture in Egypt is patriarchal and it's cross political. You can find it in any political organization. If you go to the Islamists you will find that Islamist organizations are run by people who are part of this culture. If you go to the communists and other leftists, you'll find that their organizations are also run by the same kind of mindset and so on and so far and it goes all the way up to the military and security. Under the garb of this old officialdom in all of the organizations and institutions you have a thriving Egypt of a younger generation and a younger mindset. And a fresher look at the world. You will find this new emerging culture; you will find it among Islamists as well, among Salafists that might surprise you. You will find the same in the Muslim Brothers and then you will find it in the least likely of places, Ministry of Interior. Talk to the young officers, not the ones doing the shooting themselves but there are a lot more and talk to them about security reform. How they see reform how can it be done and their immediate answer is you have to remove the old layers. Because In my view, it's only a matter of time before we push this old, almost dead, layer out and then deal with all of our issues as any society would.

Marwan Bishara: Ahdaf, it seems to me Azadin's optimism needs to be questioned at least for that. Do you share that optimism or do they think we have something to worry about with Parliament, with institutions that are all under armed control.

Ahdaf: What I'm worried about now is the next phase which we will have to live through until the military let's go. What we're having now is a group of old men killing a lot of young people. And the fear is that this is going to continue until we actually pry them out of power. What's happening of course is that the military is looking to make a deal and they're looking to make a deal with the power that is in place at the moment.

Marwan Bishara: With Islamists.

Ahdaf: Yes.

Marwan Bishara: Division of labor. One takes on security and sovereignty if you will and one takes internal affairs, education, social welfare, and things like that.

Ahdaf: It's a bit more than that they want guarantees of their central place in the finances of this country.

Marwan Bishara: So what does that tell you then. If the most patriarchal, the most authoritarian, most powerful groups in the country divide the influence in the country among them, that's pretty tough for wherever youthful generations up against.

Ahdaf: Well it's natural that that's what they want to do and its natural that we, speaking for myself, our youth, certainly on the side of the youth, are going to do every single thing on our part to stop that happening.

Marwan Bishara: Which brings me back to the question I asked Khalid. Do you think the youth are able to reverse the tables?

Ahdaf: Yes, definitely. If we thought that they couldn't then there would really just be no point for continuing with this enterprise of the revolution to anything if what we actually believed was that authoritarianism is going to triumph. It isn't. Sixty percent of this country is young and the old are old. And they are few and they ill, and they are tired, and they are boring.

Khalid: And they lack imagination.

Ahdaf: Lack imagination. And ultimately they lack energy.

Khalid: You keep on referring to them as the true central power and of course yes the military is power by definition. But I really think they have been defeated, I think the Egyptian army is really ultimately very very weak as a political institution and it has lost so much not only credibility. Well the army didn't have much to start with, it's not an army that has a huge role in founding the modern state of Egypt and it’s an army paradoxically because of this huge amount of money it receives from the United States each year for not fighting, effectively. Has made it very vulnerable in a very paradoxical way. It has allowed it not to reach any consensus or compromise with anyone else. So the army has no political partner and if I were the Ikhwan, the brotherhood now, with this huge victory in parliament, what really would pump them to reach a compromise with SCAF?

Marwan Bishara: So whether they cannot fight on the battlefield or not, but certainly they have been calling the shots in this country.

Azadin: Certainly they have and they have been doing it with the Muslim Brothers, not alone. But if you also look at the agenda of last year, you will see that they have been pushed back repeatedly by the unorganized messy crowd in Tahrir.

Marwan Bishara: So then Khalid is right.

Azadin: I agree with Khalid, not because the army is weak militarily or didn't fight or fought, but I think this youthful Egypt

Azadin: I agree with Khalid, not because the army is weak militarily or didn't fight or fought, but I think this youthful Egypt is pushing and it will keep pushing. It will turn the tables eventually or even throw the tables outside the window because ultimately this is the majority of the society and it's an active this majority is led by an active group that is split up. And that the things they ask for are not that revolutionary when you think about them. They want to be like every other nation they want Egypt to be like any other country. They just want to be normal people and this is very difficult to resist.

Marwan Bishara: Khalid how will this translate in terms of that, which Egypt has been most famous, most blessed with: culture, diversity, plurality, creativity, the arts.

Khalid: Looking at the arts scene in downtown Cairo, looking at the new books, new movies, new songs, there is something really amazing, and continues to be and it has been mushrooming and flourishing as never before. I don't think that the Islamists would manage to put a stop to this.

Marwan Bishara: Do you expect them, they will try?

Khalid: Yes because Salafis in particular are very sensitive about cultural issues about identity, it's not that the Salafis or Islamists at large have a point about foreign affairs or the economy or transportation or energy problems that Egypt has, but once you touch on these issues about women or culture or art, then they are very vocal.

Marwan Bishara: There is no underestimation of what the Islamists are capable of doing. They won more than 2/3 almost three fourths of the vote in the country. Which basically says that the secular, the more liberal voice in this country, are not in touch with the people in Egypt.

Azidin: Yes there is a majority in this country that sees a fusion between religion and politics as something important. Yes there is a majority in this country that feels its identity is deeply intertwined with Islam. Those are facts. And yes the liberals and seculars are a minority in this sense, if the focus is on this. But what we have been saying if I understand correctly is that the new culture traverses these divisions.

Marwan Bishara: And what does that mean for the future identity of Egypt?

Azidin: The battle over the identity of Egypt has been lost decades ago. And we haven't seen it, haven't noticed it enough because of the layer of the authoritarian state. Today, and for the last twenty years, if you flick the remote control and watch the Egyptian TV, the official TV under Mubarak, it's not very different from an Islamic state. It's not different from the Sudanese TV under the Islamists or from the Iranian TV.

Marwan Bishara: Lacks creativity lacks imagination, lacks-

Azadin: Yes but also lots of prayers, lots of religious discourse you read the school curriculum and it’s the same, and so on. They have won over society a long time ago. The only difference today is we're removing this artificial layer and we are communicating with each other and we're putting them in responsibility positions and say okay, how are you going to answer these questions now. And their own audience is going to do the same.

Marwan Bishara: So Ahdaf, where is this going today in Egypt? Do you think this is going to now, since its free from dictatorship, it's going to evolve or it's going to have a new challenge called the Islamists and their own phobias if you will from movie theatres and so on.

Ahdaf: I think we needn't concern ourselves too much with what happens to arts because arts will happen anyway. And it will happen possibly the more you push against it the more it will happen. I think that what we're concerned with now is actually social justice. And freedom. And I think those are the essential things that we should be moving on the road towards. And everything else will come along. But I also wanted to say, since last January, it's been very clear that the young people are questioning everything in a very positive way. And I think that if we manage to get to a situation where we are not living through crisis after crisis which actually kills people and puts more people out on the streets to get killed and so on. We are going to be in an experiment which rethinks a whole lot if not every societal given. And people know this and people talk about how exciting it is and how challenging and how wonderful to be at a point historically and geographically where you are trying to forge a completely new model of doing things, an Egyptian model.

Marwan Bishara: Your optimism is overwhelming; I'm going to have to stop with that. Ahdaf, Azadin, Khalid thank you for joining the panel.

Postscript

Marwan Bishara: Egypt's beloved game football is under assault because of politics not sports. From your league matches postponed indefinitely, the football association sacked, and its members facing prosecution. There is mounting evidence of a conspiracy behind the killings of more than 70 football supporters who also happen to be supporters of the revolution, and its defenders in the public square of the country.

Egypt's leading footballer, Mohammed Abu Tiriqa has accused the security and military services of complicity in the killings. And to add insult to injury, a Salafi leader blamed what he called the sinful un-Islamic sport for the death of the innocents and called for its ban. Football will of course survive all its critics; after all, the people's game is now part of the people's revolution. And that's the way it goes. Write to me with your suggestions. Until next time.

7301

Source:
Al Jazeera
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