Binary Fascism and its Hindrance to Democratic Consolidation

hassanelbanna nasser

Egypt’s social and political dichotomy between the Armed Forces and the Muslim Brotherhood has bred a historically languid civil society, a challenge among many others on the road to consolidated democracy.

Binary Fascism

In an interview with the BBC on August 16, Egyptian actor, activist, and revolutionary Khalid Abdalla stated both the Egyptian military and the Muslim Brotherhood are “fundamentally fascist organizations” and that he “rejected the binaries” they have presented to Egyptian society. Abdalla went on to state that the future had to be “inclusive with everyone represented.”

Abdalla was referring to the need for a pluralistic society. A basic tenet of consolidated democracy and a concept in the company of many others believed by powerless revolutionaries and liberals caught between the strength and organization of a Muslim Brotherhood and military with little interest in their existence. Since the time of Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Muslim Brotherhood and the military have competed for power within Egyptian society; as the most organized actors in Egyptian society, these two organizations were most poised to take over after Egypt’s 2011 revolution. This dichotomy explains the reasons behind the success of the Brotherhood in 2012 and the widespread appeal of the military in 2013. However, with the Muslim Brotherhood  calling the military  murderers and the Armed Forces pointing the finger back and calling them terrorists the masses are forced to decide between two highly polarized organizations with a great deal of power. With the Brotherhood feigning to be in the interest of democracy and the military feigning to be in the interest of security and stability; revolutionaries and liberals face an uphill battle in advancing the goals which brought people to the streets on January 25.
The Absence of a Vibrant Civil Society

Precipitant from this power vacuum is the historic inability of civil society to rise and flourish in Egypt. This is particularly problematic considering that a vibrant civil society is perhaps the most significant characteristic of a consolidated democracy. According to Larry Diamond, civil society is the intermediary entity between the public and private sphere that is home to “organized social life that is voluntary, self-generating, (largely) self-supporting, autonomous from the state, and bound by a legal order or set of shared rules.” Civil society exists to achieve public ends, not so much by reaching formal power or office but rather seeking concessions from the state. Diamond writes that places where civil society is working towards democratic transition are not places where civil society does not exist. Rather, they are places where civil society is oppressed and is working in the interest of public good.

However, in Egypt, this civil society working in the interest of public good is marginalized and increasingly unable to function. This is a product of a political pedigree which has never allowed for the sincere formation of opposition parties. The Brotherhood’s power and influence stems from being a religious organization able to carry out its activities at the local mosque and create its own civil society organizations such as NGO’s which address the needs of Egypt’s masses. Leading up to the 2011 revolution nearly every other party was outlawed, leaving Egyptian society deeply polarized. A vibrant civil society means interest groups, NGOs, lobbying firms, and rights activists serving a wide array of interests. Such a society fills the gap between the only two organizations ever to possess any sort of political power in Egypt and forces the formation of a government meeting the competing demands of a pluralistic society.

Diamond writes that a consolidated democracy is “the process by which democracy becomes so broadly and profoundly legitimate among its citizens that it is very unlikely to break down.” This inability to break down stems from multiple stakeholders having a direct interest in the government’s functionality and ability to meet their needs. Ideally, civil society evolves into a fourth branch of government that checks the powers of the legislative, judicial, and executive branches by “balancing the tensions in its relations with the state” (between autonomy and cooperation, vigilance and loyalty, skepticism and trust, assertiveness and civility).

It is this balance that allows democracy to thrive and endure. However, until Egypt’s highly polarized political landscape is dismantled at its core and organically reconstructed to provide a space for an unadulterated civil society; the scales will remain tipped.

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In Less than 200 Words – Why Egypt’s 2013 Constitution is No Good

Constitution

The constitution for “all Egyptians” puts many of the liberals and revolutionaries who set the uprisings in motion in the same predicament they were in when they started on January 25, 2011. There are a few issues which I think are non-negotiable when it comes to forming a democratic system of government and no matter what other pros exist and are enough to make the entire document unfit for a functional democracy. These issues are anti protest law, loose definitions of ‘libel’ and ‘defamation’ which make it easier to imprison journalists (effectively nullifying a law saying they can not be imprisoned), and military trials for civilians. Beyond these specifics is the issue of a drafting body comprised of people (in some way shape or form) paid by the state. This has yielded a constitution which is extremely state-centric. Additionally is the issue of unprecedented powers for the military (picks its own defense minister; no presidential loyalty in oath) and judiciary ameliorating these bodies’ ability to entrench their supremacy.

US Policy in Egypt Inconsistent and Counterproductive

Joint Piece with Seth Binder

Since Anwar Sadat signed the peace treaty with Israel in 1979, the United States has promoted stability in Egypt by supporting autocratic regimes. While this stability worked against both the interests of the Egyptian people and US principles of democracy, it allowed the US to serve its strategic interests in Egypt. Frustrated by the Mubarak regime, on January 25, 2011 the Egyptian people struck back at over 30 years of American-supported authoritarianism and took to the streets in mass protest. In the two years that have followed, Egypt’s transition to democracy has been plagued by political turmoil, threatening US interests. Seeking to preserve stability in Egypt, American inconsistency in following its laws and principles has only exacerbated the problems of Egypt’s transition and adversely affected US interests. The US stands a much better chance of serving its interests by consistently articulating and executing policies aligned with its calls for inclusive democracy.

At the onset of Egypt’s revolution, US attempts to support Egypt’s stability were in clear contradiction with its democratic principles. Before Mubarak’s resignation on February 11, Vice President Biden told PBS’s NewsHour that he was not a dictator and that he should not step down. However, a week later, President Obama expressed the need for Mubarak to resign immediately. Contradictions continued in the following years as the draconian measures of both the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party were met with minimal chastisement and continued economic and military support.

Following the military’s removal of democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi on July 3, the Obama administration again displayed inconsistency by failing to abide by US law. Section 7008 of the FY 2012 Appropriations Bill requires aid suspension if “the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup d’état or… decree in which the military plays a decisive role.” Instead, the administration chose to focus on whether or not a coup had taken place, an exercise which, as the law dictates, is unnecessary. Several months later the US responded to the Egyptian military’s violent dispersal of the pro-Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins at Rabaa al-Adaweya and al-Nahda and increasing human rights violations by partially suspending military aid. The administration insisted the reason for the unprecedented suspension of delivery of F-16′s, Apache helicopters, M-1/A-1 tanks, Harpoon missiles, and $260 million in cash assistance was due to concerns over Egypt’s transition to democracy rather than a violation of the coup clause in the FY2012 Appropriations Bill. A senior administration official declared that the US “didn’t make a determination, haven’t made a determination, don’t think [they] need to make a determination” whether it was a coup, but noted they were “acting consistent with the provisions of the law.” More recently, amid growing concern over a weakening alliance, Secretary Kerry traveled to Egypt to meet with government officials; not only did he praise the interim government’s commitment to the transitional roadmap, but he indicated the aid suspension was “not a punishment,” but instead, “a reflection of a policy in the United States under our law,” that, “we’re bound by.”

The United States’ inconsistent rhetoric and policies have strained its relationship with Egypt and harmed its interests in a stable Egypt. Evidence includes insults towards former US Ambassador Anne Patterson and popular conspiracy theories detailing US support for the Muslim Brotherhood or the Armed Forces. Further, Egypt’s has showed an interest in exploring the prospect of partnerships with Russia and solidifying its alliance with Gulf States such as Saudi Arabia. Each of these events is the byproduct of an inconsistent policy that has thwarted progress toward a stable Egypt. The confusing policies have also frustrated regional allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, who criticized the lack of explicit US support for the events of July 3rd. Regardless of national interests, the administration’s enforcement of the coup clause of the FY 2012 Appropriations Bill would have at least elicited the respect of Egyptians and other regional allies for implementing consistent policy. Instead, the administration was criticized for threatening US national security, losing leverage with an important ally, and betraying principles of democracy. In a speech in May 2011, President Obama acknowledged that “societies held together by fear and repression may offer the illusion of stability for a time, but they are built upon fault lines that will eventually tear asunder.” It is not too late for the administration to assertively re-declare this sentiment and adopt a policy that consistently supports a democratic transition that benefits Egypt, the region, and US interests.

In Egypt, Inclusive Democracy is no Longer just a Suggestion

source: jinsa.wordpress.com

source: jinsa.wordpress.com

According to recent statements made by the Obama administration, an inclusive democracy which embodies the goals of Egypt’s 2011 revolution is the only way Egypt can continue to be a partner and friend of the United States.

Since when?

A little background that you have probably already heard

With the revolution, its supposed correction on June 30th, the violence on August 14th, and the Obama administration’s recent decision to withhold aid, a multitude of stories detailing Egypt’s strategic importance to the United States have materialized. I won’t waste your time with the details that have since littered the internet, but just so we’re on the same page, here’s the gist: The US has key interests in Egypt; it wants to protect its close pal Israel, it wants access to the Suez Canal, and it wants cooperation on counter-terrorism efforts. Of much greater importance than any of these interests though, is influence. The 1.5 billion dollars in aid (1.3 to military and 250 million to economic efforts), which until very recently the United States provided to Egypt on an annual basis, afforded Americans a seat at the Egyptian political decision-making table. Knowing that Egypt is a major player in the region, such a seat can, and has has proven to, be invaluable to the strategic foreign policy interests of the United States in the Middle East.

Loyal to my interests, unfaithful to my principles

At the risk of oversimplification, the relationship can be reduced to the following: I give you money and state of the art military weapons and training and throw some money at your economy; you give me some decision-making power on issues going on in your country/region that are of direct interest to me. In accordance with this understanding, the Egyptian military established itself as a dependable accomplice for US strategy in the region, “coming up big” in moments such as in 1991 when it helped the United States rally an Arab coalition against Saddam Hussein, or cooperating on intelligence efforts in the post 9/11 era. Coexisting with this deep commitment to the United States however, was an authoritarian regime. Mubarak’s deep state was just as committed to its relationship with the United States as it was to being a centralized government, characterized by rampant corruption, restricted media, police brutality, a massive gap between the rich and the poor, and a severe deficiency in civil liberties. Every now and then, the torment and suffering endured by the Egyptian people below the surface of this mutually beneficial relationship would catch fire and yield international condemnation; in such instances the US would respond with soft encouragement to the Mubarak regime to usher in democratic reforms. Such encouragement was matched by little to no action and although evidence of an increasingly authoritarian regime began to appear more frequently from 2005 – 2010, it did little more than leave a blemish on the two governments’ deeply entrenched relationship.

Why the sudden intensity?

If democracy was never something the United States aggressively pressured Egypt to move toward, why the sudden urges for inclusive democracy and the recent decision to withhold aid? Is it because we have suddenly made ourselves sick by supporting autocratic rulers who defy the supposed fabric of our political infrastructure? A quick scan of the US-Saudi relationship tells me otherwise. This contradiction is an integral piece to our diplomatic modus operandi and does not seem to be bidding us farewell anytime soon. So what is it then? Mubarak was an autocrat, SCAF’S period of interim rule was autocratic, and Morsi’s sweeping constitutional declaration in November 2012 wasn’t exactly the most democratic move in history. All of these leaders instituted authoritarian measures and all of them enjoyed the unfettered flow of US aid to Egypt.

General Abdel Fattah el -Sisi is the aberration. General Sisi is the only Egyptian leader to defy democratic principles in such a flagrant manner on the world stage the way he did when he ordered the violent dispersal of sit-ins at Rabia Adawiya and El-Nahda on August 14th. General Sisi is the reason hundreds of protesters were killed as they exercised their right to demonstrate, a right the United States firmly supports. Additionally, General Sisi was trained here in the United States and graduated from US Army War College here in Pennsylvania.

So now we’re in a tough spot. General Sisi has not only committed “deplorable” acts incongruous with democracy, he is also “one of our guys.” This is an unprecedented insult to Uncle Sam to the Nth degree and makes it nearly impossible for the United States to look the other way and continue business as usual. That is why the Obama administration’s calls for inclusive democracy are louder than ever. It’s why behaving more democratically is no longer just a suggestion and it’s why Harpoon missiles and Apache helicopters have recently been withheld.

El-Sisi’s actions are forcing us to do something we should have done a long time ago and that is to support the long-term goal of democracy in Egypt.

A long time ago you say?

It’s not as if we didn’t know that democracy was the right answer. Rather, we knew it was the right answer but that it would take a long period of instability to reach — an instability that could compromise our interests. The fact is, the long dark days that serve as the backdrop to the journey from authoritarianism to democracy are well documented in history and should be well understood by the Obama administration. In France, instability relentlessly plagued the 200 years which lapsed between the founding of its First Republic in 1792 and its Fifth Republic in 1958. Other countries such as Peru, Italy, and Indonesia also underwent difficult democratic transitions. Revolutions and democratic transition are all about taking a few steps back in order to go many more steps forward. The authoritarian lid which seeks to clamp down upon transparent government, separation of powers, and civil liberties must be completely removed so that all which dwells below may rise and manifest itself within the political sphere. Yes, the result is trying times which may be marked by executions and arrivals of autocrats, reigns of terror, and coups which temporarily threaten the interests of allies; but we must understand and accept this as the nature of democratic transition.

Embracing the nature of it

Supporting the transition to an inclusive democracy means accepting the transient instability that is indispensable to its pursuit. The recently intensified urges for inclusive democracy and actions that have followed accordingly are a signal to me that the United States is choosing to let go of a historically authoritarian Egypt that has provided it with the “stability” necessary to satisfy its interests. Rather, the US seems to have realized that its interests are best served by a relationship organically rooted in mutually held democratic principles.

The Revolution Continues

It is very difficult to figure out how to articulate my thoughts and feelings regarding the events in Egypt over the past few days. Every time I try, the same roadblocks seem to present themselves….

Where do I start: January 25th? June 30th? July 3rd? July 26th?

What actors do I include: Activists? The interim government? Just the Muslim Brotherhood and the Military?

What’s my frame of analysis: The ailing motherland? The demise of democracy? The many faces of fascism?

But after receiving some shocking pictures of my cousins’ street in Alexandria and engaging in a quality discussion with another cousin who was one of the January 25th revolutionaries…I decided on a much less organized and more impulsive approach…

On what’s happening at this very moment

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Cousins’ street in Alexandria

First of all, I am deeply saddened by what’s going on right now.  I do not endorse violence of any kind to anyone in Egypt and am particularly disgusted by the Muslim Brotherhood’s destruction and violence towards innocent parties and institutions such as universities and churches.

The interim government’s decision to employ violence to break up Muslim Brotherhood protests and sit-ins at Rabia Al-Adawiyya and Al Nahda was a huge mistake. This is a group of people who have been forced out of power which they attained by democratic means; many of its members and leadership have also vowed to use violence to defend themselves and further their agenda. When you use violence to force the dissolution of these protests at Rabia and Al Nahda, the group will of course feel that much more justified to employ violence in response.  What do you think a party that more than once said they’d light the country ablaze if they didn’t get their way would do if their demonstrations were violently shaken to the ground? They’re going to burn churches, they’re going to attack police officers, they’re going to rip apart tram tracks, and they’re going to storm schools. Why use violence against a group whose very essence you say is violent?

Certainly, many of the Muslim Brotherhood’s members have actually been linked to terrorism and terrorist groups in the past, but we can not forget that the Freedom and Justice Party was elected by the people and was running the country (albeit poorly) a matter of months ago. We can not expect to simply pull the rug out from under their feet and have them disappear as we inflame them by calling them terrorists. You have to exhaust all political and diplomatic means before resorting to violence. Using violence to simply wipe them out is not only wrong in and of itself, but it is also impractical when looking towards Egypt’s future. If these guys really have been known to employ terror tactics, do you think they’re going to forget about the massacre that occurred in August 2013 when the supposedly civilian government employed violence to abruptly terminate their demonstrations? Demonstrations which, mind you, exist for the sake of protesting their forced removal from democratic power? They will never forget this. They will never forget all the ‘martyrs’ who died for their cause at the hands of the military/police and they will continue to respond with what we’ve seen over the past few days. In turn, the military and police will respond by clamping down even harder, by pushing a violent and forceful agenda even further and by suspending basic rights on an even larger scale in order to protect citizens from what may actually morph into a terrorist threat. It is at this stage that the Muslim Brotherhood may actually seek terrorism as a method of pushing its agenda. This, mind you, is the very same terrorism the army used to justify its decision to use force in the first place. The result is a political party being forced out of government and possibly morphing into a terrorist threat.

In summary, the Muslim Brotherhood are an irrational and violent group, the military/police/interim government painted an inaccurate picture of them as far as current events in Egypt are concerned, proceeded to use violence to combat this inaccurate picture, and subsequently inflamed and agitated an irrational and violent group to behave much like this inaccurate picture.

What was the alternative?

Burned police truck on cousins' street in Alexandria

Burned police truck on cousins’ street in Alexandria

I’ve always had a pet peeve for people who justify their actions by asking this question. Why does there always have to be a presence of a multitude of inferior options for me to express the point of view that the one you elected is poor ? There is a difference between a good decision and the best decision, and for the record this one is neither. That being said…I do not have an explicit alternative for someone who poses this question. I do firmly believe however that all peaceable, diplomatic, and political options were not exhausted prior to the decision to clear these people out of their sit-ins by force. Yeah, they tried some negotiations, yeah, there are horror stories about people dying inside of these protests and storing all kinds of weapons, and yeah, they were causing quite a bit of grief for civilians living nearby who wanted nothing to do with any of this. However, none of this legitimates the violence and innocent Egyptians slain to address these concerns. Negotiations failed? Try again. Then…try again…and again…and again. There are people in there who you have leveled charges against? Find a way to go in there and apprehend them. They are causing innocent civilians living nearby to live in fear of leaving their homes and preventing children from starting school? Find a way to contain them. I’m not just sitting here on my laptop idealistically typing away naive ideas to the army/police/government. The problem isn’t so much about them finding a way, its more so about the fact that they did not even try.

What does this mean for the events of June 30th and July 3rd?

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Ever since I arrived in Egypt on July 5th, the one shred of truth I’ve clung to amid this complex and ever changing situation is that  June 30th was good and that I am glad it happened. Mursi confused democracy with ballotocracy; viewing his democratic election as a free pass to enforce an authoritative style of government which had denied its people basic human rights, supervised an increase in terrorism and sectarian violence, and prioritized a regional Islamist agenda over the basic needs of the Egyptian people. His removal was demanded by the very people he had been responsible to serve, and he had failed in serving them. However, during a heated conversation with a cousin who was heavily involved with the January 25th revolution and chose to stay out of the June 30th one, my satisfaction with the events of June 30th has nearly vanished.

There is no doubt that the people who hit the streets on June 30th had every right to take action.  However; I now question whether it was a smart idea. Opting for a ‘populist-military coup’ or whatever you want to call it before trying to work within the existing political infrastructure puts these people at the mercy of the army which as many Egyptians seem to have forgotten, doesn’t exactly have the best track record. If, as many claim, 30 million people hit the streets on June 30th demanding that President Mursi step down, couldn’t these people have thrown up a few viable alternative at the next parliamentary elections coming up in less than a year? If opposition was that high, couldn’t they have cycled the majority of the Brotherhood out in one election? One may respond (as I once did) that no such political infrastructure existed to begin with; that if these people tried to do this, the irrational and violent Brotherhood would have sacrificed itself and the country before relinquishing power. Well then, why not let them prove their own irrationality and violence to the rest of the country and the world before forcing their removal with a ‘populist-coup’ and giving them every reason to employ such irrationality and violence? Don’t you think 30M people in the streets demanding that an autocratic ruler step down after his parliament refused to respect the results of an election holds a lot more credibility then just going out and demanding his removal before even proving that the system is flawed to begin with? Don’t you think it makes a lot more sense for the army to intervene on behalf of the people at this juncture? Furthermore, don’t you think that this would force the army to be held accountable to the will of the people to operate within at least a semblance of a democratic political infrastructure?

The people didn’t wait to prove the government’s failure and so they skipped a step. Because of this, they had no legitimacy…no proof that the democratic system was severely flawed. As a result of this absence of this legitimacy, the army was basically the sole actor in dissolving the constitution and removing former president Mursi. This allowed the army and police to expand their power in the name of protecting the people which needed its help so desperately. Add in the fact that much of Egypt is viewing this as a binary…’good guys vs. bad guys’ type situation and you lose all the people who disagree with both sides. You lose the true revolutionaries like my cousin who want a truly civilian government, who’d rather try to fix a flawed democratic system before using force to wipe it out. These people are still around but it’s going to be much more difficult for them to make their voices heard when the army employs authoritarianism to re-usher in the military state. Had they just tried to use the political process first it would have at least established credibility across all factions of Egyptian society. It would have proved that Egyptians want to solve things politically before using force and that intention would have been respected for years to come.

As the military and police continue to strengthen their grip and the threat of terrorism continues to become a reality…I worry for the future of the country. It seems that it’s headed back to the way things were (and possibly worse) before the beautiful revolution of January 25th. A revolution that has been hijacked and tossed back and forth between the hands of giants with greater power. However, I place all of my hope for the future on the shoulders of these true revolutionaries. I count on them to continue pursuing the true goals of January 25th and to find a way to see that these goals are realized.

The revolutions continues.

What did we learn? Questions for the Egyptian Masses

Sidi Gaber

A few days ago, an Egyptian military leader asked his people to authorize him to fight terrorism.  I attended these demonstrations and now have two questions for the Egyptian people. Both of these questions are sub-items of a larger concern:  What did we learn?

Wait so…terrorists?

Terrorists? I’m not saying I know one way or the other and I’m definitely not saying that the Muslim Brotherhood hasn’t employed some terrorist tactics since the ousting of Mursi. What I am saying, is that I think it is a dangerous idea to label the entirety of the organization as terrorist. Believe it or not, some these people are rational human beings who feel they were wrongfully removed from power and deserve their chance at democracy. While I vehemently disagree, this does not mean they are terrorists, and they have every right to protest. In fact, when rational people like this who simply want to peacefully protest find themselves labeled as terrorist criminals, they may in fact later be motivated to employ terrorist tactics. Isn’t this a textbook cause of terrorism?  Labeling them as ‘the other.’ Inspiring the masses to oppose them in order to legitimate the state’s ability to forcefully suppress them completely? What did we learn?

Someone may respond and tell me, bombs have been found. Attacks have been carried out. Weapons have been funneled from outside of Egypt and martyrs have been called upon to fight with their own blood.  My response: Yes, this is true.  Some of these people are violent and have no qualms with turning Egypt into a warzone in order to get Mursi back in power. Terrorism is happening but we simply need to bring these people to justice the same way we would any other criminal. Then we allow the rest of the group to be integrated within a pluralistic society participating in a democracy. Isn’t a democratic system the type in which a group like the brotherhood should feel most protected? Isn’t it the type of government that protects everyone’s rights to express themselves? Isn’t it supposed to be the system of government which best seeks to give anyone who desires a chance to take part in government? If so, then why blindly label the entirety of the group as terrorists?  What did we learn?

Why are we becoming blindly obsessed with yet another military leader?

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m of the opinion that June 30th could not have happened without El Sisi and the military. Mursi’s administration seemed to misunderstand democracy as a system which is solely based on elections. If you’re elected, you officially have the right to rule the country however you please (more on my support for June 30th here). I am still of the opinion that he needed to leave and I’m still very happy that he did.

BUT. What has happened since has not only worried me but also come to cast a shadow on the pure joy and elation I experienced on June 30th.  At yesterday’s demonstrations I saw an absurd number of posters praising El Sisi, people chanting his name, children wearing masks of his face, and more. Really?! We are going to emerge from the June 30th revolution by singing the praises of one man? And a military man to boot!  Why is everyone so ready to accept the absolute leadership of ANOTHER military leader? Isn’t that a large part of why the  January 25th revolution happened to begin with? Are we going backwards or forwards here? You’re walking around holding up signs of El Sisi next to Abdel Nasser? I know Abdel Nasser did some great things for Egypt and the region at large but isn’t he the father of the Egyptian military state? Isn’t he the one who arbitrarily threw people in jail? Ran a one party system which allowed for zero dissent? Didn’t he oversee some of the first instances of police brutality? If we flood the streets singing the praises of one military man as the savior of this nation, don’t we run the risk of setting the clock back to pre-January 25th Egypt? What did we learn?

From yesterday's demonstrations, note the posters of Sisi and Abdel Nasser.

From yesterday’s demonstrations, note the posters of Sisi and Abdel Nasser.

Furthermore, why is El Sisi asking for people to demonstrate in the streets in order to authorize him to deal with terrorists? I thought we had set up an interim civilian government and he was simply backing it. You shouldn’t need to make such a request. It should come from another place. Where was Adly Mansour, the current president? Or Mohamed El Baradei, the Vice President? Shouldn’t they be calling the shots right now? Didn’t we just say we wanted a civilian government in place? One that would create a just constitution, one that would serve the interests of those who returned to the streets on June 30th, who proclaimed that ‘the January 25th revolution continues?’  Why are we allowing ourselves to rely so heavily on the military again? What did we learn?

I understand that these are dangerous times. Much of the country isn’t safe and its citizens need protection. But I question these methods. I question the absence of political process and diplomacy in decision making  and I question the way the millions of citizens who flooded squares and plazas all over Egypt yesterday seemed blind to this absence. It worries me for the future and just makes me wonder….

What did we learn?

Suhur

The other night I had the privilege of meeting up with some people to grab ‘Suhur.’ Suhur is when we eat a butt(ocks)ton of food before dawn in order to survive the long day of fasting ahead . When I’d fast back in the USofA, suhur was lame. No one was fasting with me so I’d just stay up a little bit past 2, guzzle 12-200 glasses of water, pound some vitamins, eat a piece of bread, and go back to sleep…only to spend the rest of the night going to the bathroom every 5 seconds for fear of peeing my pants…

ANYWAY. I’ve purposely tried to take advantage of my first Egyptian Ramadan by going out for suhur. The other night my friend invited me to this cool place in an area called ‘Syeda Zeinab.’ It’s in an old part of town, home to a mosque built in honor of Prophet Mohamed’s granddaughter………(wait for it)……Zeinab (surprise!). Alica Keys was wrong when she called NYC the ‘concrete jungle where dreams are made of’ because Syeda Zeinab is pure madness…although I’m not sure there is consensus on whether or not dreams are produced there, but I’d definitely say that it’s a concrete/asphalt jungle where something is something’d for the purposes of somethinging. Picture mass numbers of interwoven, narrow streets teeming with people who are casually walking in front of cars, motorcycles (which are typically being ridden by 3-7 people, perhaps a family of 3-7 people), and these weird car things that look like overgrown toys or a ride at Kings Dominion.

Hey man, what are you up to tonight? Wanna drive around Syeda Zeinab and go bowling for people? Come over!

Hey man, what are you up to tonight? Wanna drive around Syeda Zeinab and go bowling for people? Come over!

Now picture a few tables in the middle of all of that. I sat at one of these tables outside a restaurant called ‘El Gahsh’ or..’Little Donkey.’ Within seconds of taking my seat, a stack of pita bread is haphazardly thrown in the middle of the table and it is soon joined by several metal bowls of Egyptian awesomeness. In the background, stray cats casually stroll around the table, beggers approach selling packages of tissues, and employees attract potential customers by yelling “EL GAHSH” a millimeter or so from the face of anyone with legs who happens to pass by. There are no plates, there are no napkins. Just the bowls and the bread. It was incredible (the cool kind).

It's not gross man; I promise.

It’s not gross man; I promise.

Although suhur here is way more fun, it isn’t exactly effective. Everyday I wake up with a mouth that is practically sewn together with dryness, a yearning for pepto bismol, and about 7 hours of fasting ahead of me but my plans to grab shawerma at 230 tonight tell me that it’s all worth it.