Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Parliamentary and Presidential Elections in Egypt: Part 1

Several steps lie ahead in order for the current military government in Egypt to turn power over to a civilian government. Among these steps are writing a new constitution, electing a parliament, and electing a new president, or prime Minister. A cautionary note-- The likelihood that Egypt will become a full fledged democracy in a year is fairly low. To use a mathematical term, democracy in Egypt in the immediate term is a low-probability event. Democracy watchers in Egypt would be well-advised to be patient-- very patient.

Indeed, as a point of comparison, Kenya, received its independence in 1963. The first truly competitive multi-party election in Kenya was held in 2002, resulting in the first Kenyan president who was truly freely and fairly elected by the Kenyan people. The next election, 2007, did not go so well, and degenerated into a bloodbath, with nearly 2000 dead, and thousands of internally displaced people. In a heartening development, the Kenyan people passed a progressive new Constitution in a free and fair election in August, 2010, giving succor to those who were worried that Kenya's fledgling democracy would not make it. The 2012 election will be a test of the strength of Kenya's emerging democracy. Forty eight years after Independence, Kenya is not yet a full-fledged democracy, rather, it remains a hybrid regime, with some authoritarian tendencies. That being said, Kenya is one of the freest countries in its vicinity. I provide this example to remind the Egypt observer that this is a long path Egypt has started down. Hopefully, they will attain full democracy in a year. My fingers are crossed that Egypt will be so blessed.

One debate that has raged in Egypt the entire spring has been the timing of elections.The military has committed to holding parliamentary elections, followed by a new constitution, and presidential elections. One problem with this schedule is: 1) it does not provide sufficient time for developing a new constitution, and 2) It seems to foreclose the possibility of a true parliamentary system with a prime minister, in favor of a "strong president" system.

A threat to the emergence of a full democracy in Egypt is the SCAF's reluctance to "renounce its role in managing the affairs of the country during this crucial time in Egypt's history." (Staff, "Egypt's Deputy PM resign amid protests," Al Jazeera, July 12, 2011). Indeed, the military is moving to protect an even expand its authority. Observers had been heartened that several parties had agreed to adopt a "declaration of basic principles," to govern the drafting of the Egyptian Constitution. The thinking was that this declaration would protect a civil state, and reign in the Islamists. (Author interview with Abdel Ghaffr Shokr). However, legal scholars working on the document now suggest that the military might use the declaration to spell out the military's role in the civilian government.

One worrying provision in this declaration of basic principles, is that it could potentially make the defense budget unavailable for public or parliamentary review. (David D. Kirkpatrick, "Egypt Military Aims to Cement Muscular Role in Government," New York Times, July 16, 2011) Given that the defense budget is a huge proportion of Egypt's current budget, this provision could be extremely problematic. (Author interview with Samer Soliman). If the military retains the right to intervene broadly in Egyptian politics, it would limit popular sovereignty, constraining the emerging Egyptian democracy.

Further, I worry about the wisdom of rushing the constitutional process. In general, constitutions take years to write. By sandwiching the constitutional drafting process in between parliamentary elections and presidential elections, the SCAF is de facto limiting the time available to deliberate on the provisions of the constitution. We saw hints of this kind of a rushed process in the military's rush to put the constitutional amendments to a referendum in a matter of weeks. After little public debate, and an accelerated process, the referendum went well enough. But it was then followed by a military decree of over 50 constitutional amendments with no public input whatsoever. This process is not really a process, and is not really a democratic process.

Steps should be put in place to ensure that the parliament has a strong role in the new constitution, both on paper, and in practice. The old parliament under Mubarak, dominated by the state sanctioned National Democratic Party, was little more than a rubber stamp. Indeed, a fact-finding judicial committee recently ruled that Safwat al-Sharif, the former speaker of the Shura, and other parliamentarians masterminded the "Camel Battle" on February 2, 2011, that left several protesters dead. (Staff, Egyptians demand post-revolution changes," Al Jazeera, July 15, 2011)

The conventional wisdom had been that parliamentary elections would be held in September. Nonetheless, this schedule seemed rushed, given that Ramadan ends on August 30th (more or less). In an interview with Abdel Ghaffr Shokr in late June, Shokr explained that given the multiple steps that are required to hold elections, September elections simply were not feasible. This analysis was confirmed when the SCAF said preparations for the vote would begin on September 30th, 2011. (AP, "Arab Spring hardens into Summer of Stalemates," The Washington Post, July 14, 2011). In many ways, this delayed schedule is good news, as it gives more time for civilian, non-Islamist, non-NDP political forces to prepare for the parliamentary vote.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Musings Regarding the "Revolution Cabinet"

The journey to democracy is long, and often lonely. Photo credit AFP. 
Dear readers

It is a lot, right? It is hard to follow Yemen, Syria, Bahrain, Jordan, Palestine and Morocco. Hats off to Issandr Amrani of The Arabist, who does an amazing job of staying on top of it all, and is world famous as a result. Thanks to Issandr for pushing me to being more precise in my blogservations,

Since I am an Africanist, with a focus on democratization, I shall confine my observations to Egypt, Libya, and Sudan.  So, back to work. Okay, what is going on?

As the Washington Post, and Issandr Al Imrani have pointed out, Egypt is in a bit of a "holding pattern," or a political stalemate at the moment as the SCAF attempts to maintain control, and the protesters attempt to push Egypt towards democracy. (AP Wire, "Arab Spring hardens into Summer of Stalemates as challenge of changing regimes becomes clearer," Washington Post, July 14, 2011; Issandr El Amrani, "Why the success of the 25 January revolution resonates beyond Egypt, Al Masry Al Youm, July 7, 2011). To its credit, Egypt is further along then most of its neighbors. The protesters seem clear that they want democracy.

On one of the days of the protest, a popular chant was "bring down the military junta." The response of the military was that protesters should be careful not to "[harm] national interests." (Washington Post, "Summer of Stalemates; Al Jazeera, "Deputy PM resigns,") One of the issues in Egypt is whether the SCAF, the military council currently ruling Egypt, is actually going to step down and hand over power to a civilian government. As my colleague, Dr. Jennifer Bremer--Department Chair of the Public Policy and Administration Department at AUC-- has pointed out, the SCAF is going to try to negotiate a safe exit for themselves. If they cannot negotiate a safe exit, she argues, they are not going to go anywhere.
Today the New York Times and Al Jazeera report that Egypt will be swearing in a new cabinet, known as the "Revolution Cabinet." The new ministers, "most of whom are relative newcomers," (Staff,"Egypt's New Cabinet to be Sworn In," Al Jazeera, July 18, 2011) will take the oath of office in front of Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi. At least 15 ministers, or more than half the cabinet are being replaced. Interior minister Mansour el-Essawy, who is in charge of the police, is expected to remain.Essam Sharaf, Egypt's current Prime Minister, has accepted the resignation of his deputy, Yehia el-Gamal. Gamal had previously offered his resignation, but it had been rejected by the SCAF. (Staff, "Egypt's Deputy PM resigns amid protests," Al Jazeera, July 12, 2011).

This change comes on the heels of an ongoing protest in Tahrir that has lasted since July 8, until today, July 18, 2011. The sit in has been going on for over a week now.  In addition to protests in Cairo, there are also protests and sit ins in Suez and Alexandria. Their demands include the resignation of the Interior Minister, a purge of Mubarak loyalists from the government bureaucracy, and a plan to overcome economic issues. (Al Jazeera, "Egypt's Deputy PM resigns"). Other key demands include an end to military trials of civilians and speedy trials of former regime officials. (Staff, "Egyptians demand post-revolution changes," Al Jazeera, July 15, 2011) As one protester--Tarek Geddawy--put it, "We have a feeling the regime is still there,somehow." (Anthony Shadid, "Not Satisfied, Protesters Return to Tahrir Square," New York Times, July 12, 2011.)

These protesters have staying power! You have to realize that it is above 90 degrees in Cairo, or at least 30 degrees centigrade out there at the Square, and that aside from the heat, the summer sun itself is blinding. These people mean business. Somebody bring them a drink of ice water!

It is a step forward  that there are new ministers. That means that the SCAF are listening to the people. However, it would be good to have institutions and organizations in place, so that the people could communicate their demands to the government and get a response in a manner other than staying outside for days at a time.

Since Field Marshal Tantawi is one of the key people that the protesters want out, this reshuffle strikes me as a "cosmetic repair." To use an analogy, the Revolution Cabinet is like putting a band-aid on a cancerous wound. If there is to be a true "Revolution," the old system has to be torn out by the roots. To see a Revolution, key aspects of the old government must change, and Tantawi, who is closely affiliated with Mubarak, is one of them. Tantawi was defense minister under Mubarak for two decades.  For a true Revolution to occur, the old government of Mubarak must be dissolved, torn down, restructured and rebuilt, not merely shuffled around or shaken up.

Please see my old post about Is it really a Revolution?

The idea of democracy emerges from the Enlightenment period. The definition of democracy is contested, and not unified.  I do not purport to lay it out in a blog post.  However, the SCAF having broad powers, which they are currently asking for, would likely lead to a regime more hybrid, than democratic. If people can live with some kind of a democratic transition, short of a Revolution, then the new government must contain most of  the following elements.

  • A guarantee of basic Human Rights to every individual person vis-à-vis the state and its authorities as well as vis-à-vis any social groups (especially religious institutions) and vis-à-vis other persons.
  • Freedom of opinion, speech, press and the mass media
  • Religious liberty
  • Free and Fair elections
  • General and equal right to vote (one person, one vote)
  • A popularly elected representative body which can represent the peoples' interests.  The old Parliament under Mubarak did not meet this test, because it had no power.
This is not an easy standard to attain. In Africa, Ghana and South Africa stand out as true democracies. Of the countries I study , Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania are all hybrid regimes with some elements of authoritarianism and some elements of democracy. Rwanda  is closer to an authoritarian regime.

I am going to fine tune these ideas in a later post.


Musical Interlude for an Egypt in Transition: Chchchchanges

David Bowie

I still don't know what I was waiting for
And my time was running wild
A million dead-end streets
Every time I thought I'd got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet
So I turned myself to face me
But I've never caught a glimpse
Of how the others must see the faker
I'm much too fast to take that test

(Turn and face the strain)
Don't want to be a richer man
(Turn and face the strain)
Just gonna have to be a different man
Time may change me
But I can't trace time

I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence and
So the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same
And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They're quite aware of what they're going through

(Turn and face the strain)
Don't tell t hem to grow up and out of it
(Turn and face the strain)
Where's your shame
You've left us up to our necks in it
Time may change me
But you can't trace time

Strange fascination, fascinating me
Changes are taking the pace I'm going through

(Turn and face the strain)
Oh, look out you rock 'n rollers
(Turn and face the strain)
Pretty soon you're gonna get a little older
Time may change me
But I can't trace time
I said that time may change me
But I can't trace time

Fatima's Cafe: An Alexandrian Adventure

Alexandria at night. Photo Credit, the author.
Article first published as A Meeting at Fatima's Cafe in Alexandria, Egypt on Blogcritics.

I went on an amazing research trip to Alexandria with some colleagues the first week of July,2011. Egypt has 80 million people, and only 20 million of them live in Cairo. A good many of them, at least four million in the city itself, live in or near Alexandria. Alexandria is named after Alexander the Great, who founded the city around 300 BC. Alexandria is Egypt's northernmost port, and it defines the place where the Nile delta flows into the sea. Alexandria lies on the southern shore of the Mediterranean Ocean, and its people are a mixture of Turks, Arabs, African tribes of Upper Egypt, Greeks, Bedouins, Berbers, Spaniards, and traders of various stripes and shades. 

The train ride to Alexandria takes approximately four hours, and is comfortable and scenic. As the Nile Valley turned into the Nile Delta, high rises gave way to rice farms and palm trees. Cairo is notable for its incredible overbuilding. This is to be expected in a city, which at twenty million, rivals Mexico City and Los Angeles as one of the largest metropolises in the world in terms of population. As a result, overbuilding is rampant. As the train moved out of Cairo, one of the most notable changes was less building and more farms. Because Egypt is so dry, receiving less than five inches of precipitation a year, the only farming that occurs in the country is on areas located on the Nile. 

A beautiful building in Alexandria in need of renovation
Alexandria is an old city of the European type. Belle Epoque architecture characterizes the main square. The old neighborhoods could all use a coat of paint, but are nonetheless charming. One of the highlights of our trip was visiting an elderly relative of my colleague John. Tante Blanche. In Egypt, as in many Middle Eastern Nations, different streets or neighborhoods have different specialties in terms of business. Some streets sell jewelry, some streets sell wedding gowns, and some streets are full of bakeries selling the sweet delicate pastries that Egyptians favor.  These business areas are referred to as “souks,” meaning markets, or bazaars. John’s Tante Blanche lived in the car repair souk. We saw a sign for a garage that said "North East African Trading Company Overland and Willys." Parked in front of Tante Blanche's house on the street was a vintage black Packard limousine from the 1930s, in mint condition. She explained that the car is rented out for special occasions, like weddings or parties. The buildings in Blanche’s neighborhood are close together, and all have balconies. We enjoyed the evening breeze on her porch. The houses across the street were not quite within reaching distance, but they were no further than 15 feet away. It struck me as a scene out of The Time and the Place by Naguib Mahfouz. 

A typical Alexandrian working class neighborhood. Photo Credit, the author.
Our research was on the popular civil militias which were created in the cities to protect neighborhoods during Egypt’s January 25th Revolution. In an effort to thwart the people’s efforts and throw the country into chaos, deposed President Mubarak released thousands of prisoners from jail, and withdrew the police. These civilian defense forces emerged from the grassroots through the country, and by January 28th, the entire country was safer than it ever had been, protected by every able bodied man, and sometimes woman, in each building.  The defense forces worked on shifts and used secret passwords, and special signals, like raised windshield wipers. One major group in Alexandria was led by a gentleman of the name of Engineer S. We had not met him, we just knew of him by reputation. 

He told us to go sit at a place called Hotel Nobel on the Corniche. The Corniche, from the French word cornice, is the word Egyptians use to describe the waterfront, whether on the Nile, or the Mediterranean.  The Hotel Nobel was undistinguished, and we wondered why Engineer S. had selected it.  As we sipped our tea we got a call. We were instructed to cross over to the ocean side by means of the underground tunnels, and meet him at a place called Fatima's Café, where the sea meets the Corniche. We seated ourselves in the plastic chairs while we watched the sun set red over the Mediterranean Ocean, as the waves smashed against the rocks. As my colleague Jennifer pointed out, it was all very cloak and dagger: "meet me on the Corniche, around sunset, at Fatima's Cafe." 
Sunset on the Corniche
About forty minutes later, Engineer S. arrived with an entourage: Fatima herself; Islam, the Bedouin from Sinai; Ahmed, a Black Arab from Upper Egypt; and Khaled, a fellow who seemed to have ties to the previous government. We feasted on fu'll and t'aamaiya (soaked beans), which are delicious and somehow addictive with a bit of salt. Engineer S. was the real deal: brilliant, brave, organized, handsome, political, and a protector of the family of Khaled Sayeed's—one of the martyrs whose memory started the Revolution. We had a fascinating and long discussion with all of them, full of informative facts about politics, religion, culture and security. As we left from Fatima's Cafe around midnight, we were exhausted, but happy.

Meeting with Popular Defense Forces
After a long day of walking around Alexandria, we had to catch our train back to Cairo. We debated for a few minutes about where we should eat our last meal. We arrived at the rooftop restaurant of the Victorian era Windsor Palace Hotel, which could not have been a better ending to a wonderful weekend. From the rooftop, we had a panoramic view of the entire city. Alexandria stretched out in front of us in a perfect crescent, as the waves crashed on the Corniche. Alexandria had been a kind hostess. We would return.   

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Happy Anniversary Tahrir!

Well, the protest in Tahrir has been going strong for a week now. And furthermore, the Revolution has been going on for nearly six months. In fact, I arrived in Egypt on January 25th, and my birthday is on July 25th, and we are still revolutionizing.

Here are some links to read as we reflect on this momentous occasion. 

Egypt: Revolution in progress

Egyptians voice frustrations in Tahrir Square
Egypt's military representative visits Tahrir, amidst protesters' fury

Why the success of the 25 January revolution resonates beyond Egypt

Police cleansing no substitute for reform, activists say

Political parties support postponing parliamentary elections

Egypt's military announces committee on constitutional principles to little fanfare

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Congratulations to the New South Sudan

Today, the New Nation of Southern Sudan celebrates its independence. For those of us in Kenya, in the Darfuri Liberation Movement, and those of us in the East African region, it is a time of rejoicing.  We are going to have a small party at my house and eat Basbousa and drink juice and toast to the New Nation!

 Congratulations! (English) Hongera! (Swahili)  Mabruk! (Arabic)

Southern Sudan: Hopes and Challenges for the World’s Newest State

Murithi Mutiga and Samuel Ollunga state that though the liberation and formation of Southern Sudan comes at a huge cost, it brings new hope to a war-weary people. The leader Salva Kiir faces enormous challenges in getting the country to its feet.

At the stroke of midnight on July 9, bells will toll aloud across the 10 states of Southern Sudan to herald the birth of the world’s 193rd state. The din from the celebrations will be audible across the globe as Africa’s 54th state takes center stage — for at least one day — before the audience of world nations.

This is a rare moment whose historical significance is hard to overstate. The independence of Southern Sudan will mean the breakup of Africa’s biggest country. It will also stand as the most conclusive seal to bespeak the end of one of the most protracted conflicts in African history. It will denote a select moment where a separatist movement, launched to protest ethnic and religious domination, has succeeded in disentangling itself from the center and formed a completely new state. In a continent where similar rebel groups abound, the feat of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) is a significant one.

For the rest of this article, please click Fair Observer South Sudan.

For the coverage of Al Jazeera of this event, please click here Al Jazeera South Sudan.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Political Parties in The New Egypt

These represent partial notes taken by me at a conference. The conference was called From Tahrir: Revolution or Democratic Transition? June 4-6, 2011. Oriental Hall, AUC Tahrir Square.

These notes were from a 9:00 a.m. panel on June 5, 2011 called The Future of Political Parties The panel was in both English and Arabic. The speakers were Samer Soliman, the American University in Cairo, Ibrahim El-Hodiaby, activist and researcher, Abdel Ghaffar Shokr, Center for African Studies and activist. The panel was moderated by Nathan Brown, George Washington University.

I did my absolute best to create a verbatim transcription. Any errors are my own. 

Abdel Ghaffr Shokr

The Muslim Brotherhood are financing the party and establishing their Constitution. This is the political wing of a religious movement. 

The problem is the remainder of the political thought. Concerning the future of political parties. The parties law caused more limitations. It said 5000 members. Did not solve the problem of financing. There is a lack of equitable competition if you hide behind the veil of religion, it is not equitable. There is a weakness of the youth of the Revolution in forming structures for themselves.  

Western countries and Gulf countries are pumping a lot of money into Egypt to make Egypt follow their model.

There is a social schism. Everyone is establishing a party to call for their needs. There are new activists. Millions of people want to be activists. Egyptian people want to live with integrity and respect. There is a ferocious kind of conflict to determine the future of Egypt, whether it will be an Islamist country. People are hating authoritarianism. Revolutionaries can lobby to get SCAF to do what they want. This makes the outlook a little optimistic. I believe that Egypt is on its way to democracy.

Dr. Samer Soliman

The challenges facing newly founded democratic parties are many. The Democratic Front party. They are well organized. Tagamoo was there. Before the 25th of January, the NDP was not a party. It was a network of profiteering, and interests and security. 

Post the 23rd of July Revolution [Author's note ?] Parties had the same message. The Opposition was asked to go on opposing for life. If they were accepted, they were just pressure lobbies. This changed after the Revolution. 

We have the old parties. There are 24 old parties. They don't live up to the definition of parties. El Wafd, Nasserites, Political Front. Most of the old parties are without ideological orientation. For example, an ideology of Anti-Nasserism. These parties are characterized by senility and stagnation. 

There are younger parties. New parties, and new faces. In the old parties, money plays an important role. The elite that we are facing. Yesterday, we were meeting with the minister of finance. There should be a law enacted to reduce taxation in our view. He said that there is no single person who is for real estate taxation. [Author's note: there is a lot of uncontrolled real estate speculation in Cairo. It is a real urban planning problem. If you taxed these developments, it would control it somewhat] 

There are real challenges facing the civil based parties. First, there is a lack of social depth. No common goals. Parties are made up of individuals, not social groups. The most dynamic area in society under Mubarak was in religion.  Religion was a very vibrant domain. The federation of labor unions is dying. It was supported by the NDP, but now they are supporting the SCAF. Independent trade unionist leaders are very promising, but not very politically mature.

Second, the One million man march slogans included "we don't want parties." Tagamoo had a platform. Wanted to dismantle parties. Some don't want parties.. Don't want to join or establish an organization. The 6th of April movement was influenced by Serbia.
The youth group will not turn immediately into parties.

The third challenge is the absence of institutions. Now we have the party of Naguib Sawiris. You need to shed light on who the major members are.

Fourth, there is a challenge of the legislative and institutional framework. The SCAF needs to find a new mode of discussion. They met the Coalition of Youth for the Revolution for two hours. The Command structure of the SCAF takes us back to the Nasserite era. They are adopting a semi-authoritarian regime structure [Author's note, where is the semi, I only see authoritarian!]

They want proportional representation. This includes women and non-Muslims. A proportional list is the most suitable solution for Egypt. The SCAF has been running the country for four months, yet no party has been asked to sit down with them. Parliamentarian representation should include half laborers and half farmers. In the past, those seats were given to people who were not really farmers. [Not sure if the word used here was fellaheen?]

The religious schism emanates from the history of Egypt. It is changing rapidly and sharply. I would share the optimism of Ghaffr. There are small sporadic parties. The upcoming Parliament may be fragmented. Representation will be very difficult for the transition period. This Parliament has to draft the Constitution. We need to look forward to the elections of 2016. Hopefully, five or six new parties can actually survive. The public needs to choose its own parties.

The Parliament may only go on for a year. The SCAF says that the Parliament will go on longer. We have heard about a party that has run a lot of advertisements. Now, I disagree with Shokr that some parties have received money from abroad. We have to stop poisoning the political atmosphere without proof.

Do not discriminate against parties without reference. There is total equality between all political parties within {?}

Question and Answer

Q: The Islamic current should mature. But Al Ikhwan says power is not in the hands of the people. Rather itis in the hands of the fatwas and Islamic scholars. Is the Brotherhood feeling excluded? Does this lead to higher demands?
Q: How do we unify parties? 
Q: Will there be a rule against receiving money from a foreign country? 
Q: What is the strategy about local elections?

Answer: Samer Soliman

There is no municipal law nowadays. We do not have a relevant law re managing their administration. One of the pressing demands of the revolution was to elect governors. The condition of collecting the 5000 signatures forced parties to go into rural areas.

Answer: Abdel Ghaffr Shokr

There is a law which punishes those who receive foreign funding. There needs to be a balance in Parliament so we can write the Constitution. There should be leeway for independent candidates.

Answer: Ibrahim El Hodhiaby

One party is worried that the Islamists are growing in numbers. Islamists are moving into new territories. Moving as if expecting new list to fall. We should find some common ground between the Muslim Brotherhood and the civil parties. Let us first find common ground. I believe that there is a difference between the different political parties expectations and their Parliament. The representation of the MB is not going to exceed a certain amount.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Preparing for Protest

It sounds like there is going to be a really big protest tomorrow at Tahrir. Writing in Al Masry Al Youm English (almasryalyoum), Noha El Hennawy states that Friday, the 8th of July is going to attract thousands. Her article is linked above, but to paraphrase, people are frustrated with the SCAF. Many of the Revolution's demands went beyond simply replacing Mubarak. The people also asked for freedom, integrity and social justice in their slogans.

According to the Arabist, the Muslim Brotherhood is planning to participate in tomorrow's protests. In general, the MB, reports the Arabist, has shied away from protests. Yet Ursula Lindsey suggests that it is time for them to fall in line with the popular mood.

Well, I was just at Tahrir today, for a second interview with Abdel Ghaffr Shokr. On my way out of town, back to New Cairo, we got stuck in a severe traffic jam near Tahrir. I was actually stuck in traffic literally next to the roundabout, the Midan, for about thirty minutes, so I had plenty of time to observe.

Here is what I saw at about 3 in the afternoon on Thursday. The entire roundabout has been cordoned off by the protesters (I presume) with green and yellow plastic nylon ropes in a kind of makeshift fence of sorts. There are many tents on the square. Some are military style plain white canvas pup tents. Some are the pup tents with revolutionary slogans written on them in Arabic in black and red paint. Another popular style of tents are made out of large flags put together. The Libyan and Palestinian flag are popular choices, and one tent had a roof made out of the Chinese flag.

The square has both men and women on it. I saw a Nekabi wandering around making preparations. Many youth were in evidence, sporting Palestinian style red and black checkered headscarfs to mark themselves as revolutionaries. One tent had older men, around fifty, with younger men, around twenty, and some very small revolutionaries, around five years old asleep in a heap under the shade of the pup tent.

Banners are already up, as is a stage, and the Egyptian flag is everywhere. The square is a bit worse for the wear. It is clean, more or less, but the grass is quite trampled, and cigarette butts litter the ground.

My university has issued stern warnings.

·       Anyone planning to travel to areas in Egypt outside Cairo should cancel their travel.
·        When you travel inside Cairo, limit all movements to the most essential only, and plan alternative routes avoiding large gatherings.
·        Avoid all rallies because of a credible risk of localized unrest.
·        Exercise caution when passing by government buildings, police stations and military barracks.
·        Treat members of the security forces you encounter with patience and respect, and follow all instructions promptly. Carry photographic identification and a mobile phone.
·        As a reminder, please ensure that you have an adequate supply of food in your home in the event that services are interrupted.
·        Keep updated on the situation by following media reports.
Hold on to your hats, folks. This one could be big! I will be staying indoors with my three children myself.  WMB

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Custodian Project: inverting the pyramid

Students and custodians together, in no particular order, just friends. 

Dear readers

I participated in a community based learning project in my Leadership Class at American University in Cairo this semester. My students designed it. We developed it and implemented it together.

Community Based Learning is similar to Service Learning. According to Thomas Ehrlich

"Students learn best not by reading the Great Books in a closed room but by opening the doors and windows of experience."

CBL or service learning must respond to an expressed need in the community. It must support the students learning and address a community need. It must be reciprocal. 

In addition, the project must provide students with an opportunity for reflection. The instructor must help the students connect the service with academic and professional learning.

According to the Gerhart Center, the project must be aligned with course goals, it must empower the community, the community must be an equal partner, the project must embody civic responsibility, and the results must be disseminated.

I have set up a website in order to disseminate the results of this project. You can take a look at it here at the Custodian Project. Let me just say that my work was inspired by Yahia Shawkat's work, which I profiled in a previous post.  This project was also inspired by the Clinton School's emphasis on service learning, and by the Gerhart Center's work on the same. 

The gist of the project was that we wore custodian uniforms. We worked for two hours doing the custodians' jobs of cleaning the bathrooms and cleaning the classrooms. The custodians were the teachers and the supervisors, and we were the workers. They trained, we worked. We inverted the pyramid of class and privilege at our university for a short time.

Fatma, Hend, Seham and Hend training us about cleaning techniques. 

Students and professors listen intently as we are trained about how to clean bathrooms and classrooms. 

This project may not be very interesting in America where hard work can help you move up in life. Yet in Egypt, where there is a extremely strict class hierarchy as I have mentioned in previous posts, this project is potentially radical. 

The goal of the project was to embody the spirit of Tahrir's slogan: freedom, integrity, social justice. I think we at least were able to embody the last two ideas. 

The initial results have been positive. One of my students commented, 

It was a great experience. I learned that it is not enough to just feel sympathy about someone unless you put yourself into his/her situation. That is exactly what happened to me when I worked as a custodian for less than 2 hrs.

Their tolerance and patience to fulfill the tasks, as well as their efforts with us to teach the mechanism of work make me think that they themselves are the real leaders. Dear great and devoted custodians, in brief, our life without you is unbearable.

One of the custodians commented, 

I would like to thank you [] for what you did, and I want to tell that I  have a wonderful feeling of your interest in custodians and their work and thinking of them. I am really impressed of your act and it proves that not the whole community is avoiding us and there are some people who cares about our feelings and our efforts to serve the AUC community. In addition I wish to see other staff members and AUC students thinking the same way you did. Many Thanks.

Again, you can read more about this exciting project here

We still want to do a lot more work on dissemination. We have video, we want to make something for you tube. We want to set up a display on campus with our hundreds of photos. We are still working on reflection and analysis, but I wanted to let you in on this amazing educational experience. 


Interview with Abdel Ghaffr Shokr: Founder of Coalition of Popular Socialist Party Egypt

I first met Mr. Abdel Ghaffr Shokr at an AUC conference on the Revolution or Democratic Transformation. He impressed me, so I decided to interview him as part of my effort to interview leaders of emerging political parties. In my personal view, the Western media is placing excessive focus on Islamist parties, and insufficient focus on Center and Left parties in Egypt.

This interview was conducted on July 4, 2011. The interview was conducted in his party headquarters near Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo. The translation was conducted by John Ehab, a student of mine, and a journalist.

Start Interview

I am 75 years old. I was born in a village in the countryside, in Dakhalia. I attended Cairo University. I was in Literature, in the Department of History, in 1960. In 1965, I participated in the organization of socialist youth. I was the awareness secretary. I was the president of awareness in the whole socialist union (The Nasser Party). [Authors' note, that party was the NDP of the Nassr era.] I held that position from 1965 to 1969. In the 1960s, the youth organization had half a million members. Etihad Ishterraki, the Arab Socialist Union.

Q: What in your background made you a socialist?

I became a socialist due to a battle against a feudalist in Dakhalia. He was the biggest landowner. He was in the upper room of Parliament at that time. He was bad to the farmers. He owned around 46,000 acres. My dad had a struggle against him. Our family was persecuted because of this struggle. My father died of a heart attack in 1946. Because of this experience, I became committed against feudalism and capitalism. When I read, I became a socialist. When the coup of Nasser happened, I became a Nasserite. I was the President of Awareness in Egypt of ASU.

When Sadat took over in 71, I moved to the opposition. I was against Sadat;s economic policies and foreign policies. His economic policies favored the rich. In 1976, I helped found the Tagamoo party [Author's note: "Tagamoo" means gathering, or collection in Arabic]. This party was socialist. I became the secretary of awareness fro the party, and the Deputy of the General Secretary of the part (Khaled Mohadeen)

Skipping forward, in March 2011, I resigned from Tagamoo. I was indifferent to the General Secretary regarding his position about the Mubarak Regime. The GS (Rafat Said) was supporting Mubarak. Since 1990, Rafat Said had taken a position that was supportive of the regime. We were indifferent from then to now. There was not a chance to make new parties under Mubarak.

Q: Why did you not try to topple the leadership of Tagamoo?

I tried to withdraw the trust, but the council of the party voted "No."

Q: What party are you in now?

I am in the Party of the Coalition of Popular Socialists (Hezb el Tahalaf Shaaby Eshteraki). I am the representative of the founders. I am the coordinator of the founders. The party was founded on February 10, 2011, a few days before Mubarak stepped down. We had an announcement for all the leftists, that Egypt is in need of a new leftist party, a broad party.

In the January 25th Revolution, the leftists participated as individuals in the uprisings. [and groups within leadership?] because the Tagamoo party was conspiring with the regime.

The left needs a new party. We are different than Tagamoo. Our party will permit different platforms. The internal structure will be democratic. We will give the young people priority within the leadership. [Author's note, the interview was conducted at the party headquarters. There were no women present. There were a few young men present. One of the young men present was Bassam Satry, an author.]  We announced that we needed to establish the party. One the 14th of February, 100 people met and started the party.

Q: I know you have published your platform, but could you give me a sense of the big ideas of your party?

  • We want a civil state.
  • We believe in a reform of citizenship rights, and are opposed to discrimination on the basis of religion and ethnicity. 
  • We support a parliamentary state. 
  • We support a new constitution that would guarantee these values. This constitution will change the laws regarding parties, elections, syndicates and NGOs.
  • We believe in social justice. We support a new structure for wages and salaries. We want a minimum wage for all, around 1200 LE ($200 dollars a month). The maximum wage would only be for the public sector. It would be 15 times the minimum wage. This figure should be linked to prices, and should adjust as prices adjust.
  • Education and health should be free. These are the tools of social justice. The state claims that education is free, but there is private tutoring. We need to completely restructure education. 
  • We support free (universal) health care. 
  • We supported a graduated taxation system. 
Our constituency are workers, farmers, the middle class, small traders, owners of small and micro projects, women and young people.

Q: What does the party offer women?

The party offers women equality in obligations and rights. Women have the right to hold any office, including president. A lot of women are in the founding group. These include Doctor Fatma Kafagha of the UN, and Jehan Shaban. We need a grassroots party. We basically have similar ideas about women to the Tagamoo. The Tagamoo has some prominent women, including Farida Nagash, the Editor in Chief of Ahali Weekly Newspaper. She has raised good positions in her paper.

We are concentrating on winning the young people. Our platform includes the demands of the young people. Our problem is that the young people are not attracted to socialism today. We have a real problem to gain the young people.

Last Tuesday, we had a conference in a village in Dakhalia. 1000 people attended. We have not yet begun to organize the big cities. We are now focusing on personal contacts.

We objected to this rule for 5000 signatures to form a new party. We will meet the rule. We will get the signatures by the end of July. However, the publication requirement is unfair. It could cost at least 100,000 dollars (1/2 million LE) to meet this requirement. Although now, the SCAF is saying it will waive the signature requirement.

So, there is a law that out of Egypt's 29 governorates, the party must get at least 300 signatures from 10 of the 29 governarates. This is a way to eliminate small parties, and it is not democratic. In terms of our strategy, we will focus on the Parliament and local offices. We are not planning to organize around the Presidential election. Aboul Ezzi Harriri has said he may run for president. He is popular. It is not clear exactly when the parliamentary elections will be held. It sounds like they will be held in September, but the date has not been set. It is my guess that the parliamentary elections will be held in late September. The Presidential elections, I think, will be held in the New Year, in the Spring of 2012.

The SCAF has said the new Constitution will take six months. We do not support the parliament writing the Constitution. It would be better to have a constitutional convention elected by the people. The Constitutional Convention should represent political parties and all social segments of society.

I believe that the important leftist parties are

The Coalition (Ghaffr Shokr's party)
Democratic Labor
Egyptian Socialist Party
Communist Party

End Interview. WMB