Saturday, March 5, 2011

"I take my goals from you, and I promise you, if I cannot fulfill those objectives, I will come and join you as a protester."

I went to class on Thursday morning and when I got out the country has a new Prime Minister. Unbelievable. Ahmed Shafiq, who was a holdover from the Mubarak regime, was deeply unpopular and huge protests were planned to call for his resignation or removal on Friday. He was replaced by the military by a Essam Sharaf, a figure who the opposition leaders had proposed—a former Transportation Minister who resigned from the Mubarak government several years ago in protest, and who even joined the protests in Tahrir Square.

After Shafiq’s resignation, I spoke to a student who, like me, was in shock at the pace of the changes taking place. He was, also like me, a bit cautious. What does this mean? Is this a power play by the military? Or is there another explanation? And of course, the skeptic in me wants to approach it cynically. Prime Ministers aren’t replaced because the people protest and want it. But then, I thought, of course they are. And I had this conversation with the student—this is entirely logical. Why would those in power not listen to the people? They should. It makes sense. They have learned the lessons of the past month—the enormous power of people. Millions of people. In the street. It really makes perfect sense.

I guess I had a random thought about the labor protests in Wisconsin, and now spreading throughout the midwest US. I have seen and heard commentary comparing the situation there to this region. While there were some really inspiring signs of solidarity on both parts (pro-Wisconsin signs in Tahrir Square and vise versa), it seemed too facile for me. But what finally hit me was this revelation of what participatory democracy can look like. Because while the causes in both places are completely different, the common ground seems to lie in the belief that lasting change can happen through direct action. When I was protesting in New York in the lead up to the US invasion of Iraq, I thought the best possible outcome was to slow down the imperial war machine. The invasion could be delayed. A visible US opposition could convince US allies not to support the invasion. And I believe that we may have succeeded in those respects, though the ongoing tragedy makes it hard to find any kind of victory in those achievements. However, what I have witnessed in Egypt has forced me to reconsider everything I thought I knew about the possibilities of political action.

Two additional scenes from the surreal world I live in:

  • On Wednesday night, the eve of his resignation/removal, the Prime Minister debated Egypt’s most famous writer (and an outspoken opposition figure) on television. A political debate! And a novelist!
  • This morning (Friday), the new Prime Minister went back to Tahrir Square and proclaimed: "I take my goals from you, and I promise you, if I cannot fulfill those objectives, I will come and join you as a protester."

No comments: