Sunday, February 06, 2011

Egypt in Crisis, Self-governed Cairo, and the Emergence of Egypt?s Civil Society

Dr. Muhammad Shamsaddin Megalommatis

In an earlier article published under the title ??The Collapse of the Mubarak Regime and the Re-birth of Egypt?? (amongst others:, I expanded on the underlying reasons of the present moment upheaval.

It is true that under the Mubarak regime Egypt was run exactly opposite to what most of the Egyptians would have wished their country to be ruled. But it would be very simplistic to automatically establish a divide of the type ??Civil, democratic society supporters vs. an autocratic regime??.

1. Fragmented, Outdated Opposition, Political Myths, Western Mass Media

It is clear that the political oppression, which took the form of elimination of parties from the political arena and of preservation of political parties as a mausoleum-like caricature, triggered the socio-political fragmentation and the theoretical compartmentalization that the ruling regime wanted to create as a means of consolidation of the National Democratic Part (NDP) in the power.

The socio-political fragmentation and the regime-propagated myths prevented most of the Egyptians from seeing their country, their identity, their vocation, their country?s position in the area, and the entire world in terms of reality. In this regard, one must specify that Modern Islamism and Pan-Arabism are colonially fabricated theories and socio-behavioural systems, first elaborated in the Orientalist ateliers of the Anglo-French colonial academia and later projected onto the targeted nations in order to help the colonial powers smoothly embed their policies without major opposition.

The Western mass media diffused worldwide an altered image of the Egyptian reality, thus helping the regime myths remain intact in Egypt, and the global public opinion stay in mysteries. In many aspects, the Mubarak regime was catastrophic for the Western interests, contributing to the rightful radicalization of middle and lower social layers. This situation is not exclusively Egyptian and typifies many different countries all over the world. Consequently, Egypt serves as an excellent example of how not to rule a country.

This was clearly shown on Friday, 28 January 2011, when the police stations were burnt throughout the country, and in many cases this was done by exasperated police officers who hated themselves for having undeservedly executed immoral and unpopular orders of their superiors. What happened is something that most of the Egyptians would have considered as absolutely impossible a few weeks earlier. In some cases, even the house of the local police head was set in fire.

This shows that the regime was not as strong as many had thought it to be. Another point of despair for the terminating Mubarak regime is the fact that the outright majority of the Egyptians demonstrated a great sense of civic duty, totally isolated the pro-Mubarak protesters, and successfully reduced the extent of the pillage.

2. Looting, and the Emergence of Egyptian Civic Sense

Many asserted that the pillage was carried out by the policemen themselves; this is really an outrageous lie; it may eventually be due to ignorance of a modern state?s structure. In every modern state, there is a para-state organization. Most of the Organized Crime (another term to describe the same scheme) is run by people who hold important positions in the government, the police, the national security, the secret services, the army, the academia (notably selected professors of Law and Medicine), and the circle of business. The aforementioned does not imply either independent structure or regular function with offices and employees.

The structure of the Organized Crime is parasitical, and it could not be otherwise. There is a hierarchy with orders given from the top to the correct subordinates per case, but all the members hold other, officially known, positions that they duly and effectively utilize for the needs of their para-state organization, and of their interests in it. As it happens with secret societies, the members? loyalty is first given to the Organized Crime.

In the case of the Egyptian insurgence, the looting of some shops (notably Carrefour Maadi), apartments, and the Egyptian Museum must be credited to the Organized Crime. However bad and sad it may be, it triggered - as I already said - a great sense of civic duty among Egyptians. With the disappearance of the police, simple people took the neighbourhood?s security in their own hands, closing several streets and creating an effective traffic network across Cairo that became the city of 100000 control posts.

This common effort brought together neighbours who had never spoken to one another or even had not known each other. At the control points, there were variably people of all ages, demanding the identity card and the driving license of each car/taxi driver. This occurred the whole day long on Saturday, 29th of January, and to lesser extent on Sunday, 30th of January, and Monday 31st of January. Beyond that term, the controls were effectuated only during the curfew, which on some days (Tuesday 1st of February) started at 15:00 and ended at 8:00, to be later loosened to 19:00 - 6:00!

3. Cairo under Curfew

The Egyptian concept of curfew is deeply humane; in other cases, violation of curfew means risking being shot dead. This was never the case in Egypt; simply you had to accept to stop every 500 meters (in some cases 150 m and in few cases 2 km) in front of the control people of the area, talk with them, and show to them your identification documents.

At times, the control people were very friendly, understanding that the process may have been really embarrassing for a driver. At any point of main road, one could find a taxi every 5 or 20 minutes until as late as 23:00.

The coordination among the control groups was great, and at times, drivers were given passwords to utter to the people of the next control stop, which meant that there they would avoid being systematically controlled; thus, the entire process was somewhat facilitated. For a person with my experience, who may have crossed various districts and highways throughout Cairo by taxi for seven consecutive evenings, there was compassion, understanding, fairness, and trust.

With the emergence of the army as a top key element of traffic security (mainly on Thursday 3rd of February), loyalty was added to the aforementioned traits.

4. Talking to Youngsters in Charge

To offer a personal example, in the evening of Thursday, 3rd of February, I picked up a taxi at 21:15 in the Autostrad highway nearby Maadi to go to Abbassia; practically speaking, this means a movement from Cairo?s south-eastern suburb to the easternmost confines of the central part of the city.

The taxi driver decided to avoid the (shorter and faster under normal conditions) Autostrad highway, and cross poorer districts like Bassetin and Sayeda Ayesha, hoping to find there fewer control stops. At a certain moment, we came upon a group of youngsters who thought that I was one of the friends of Gamal Mubarak who either already left the country or are hiding in order not to be arrested.

Since these youngsters were not convinced in the nervous discussion that ensued, they asked my papers, which I presented to them in order to prove that I was not an Egyptian. They could not believe that a person with Greek passport would cross such a poor area whereby many Islamic era tombs have been occupied by homeless and duly transformed into houses for the living. Quasi-automatically, a crowd of no less than 50 people surrounded the taxi, rendering the taxi driver very nervous, as he knew that their worry was unjustified. Angrily, they ordered him not to speak, and this was what I advised him to do immediately.

They then checked my handbag, handed it over to me, and took my passport and ??carnet?? (employee identification card) for meticulous control; after an early examination, they kept the two documents, asking the taxi driver to follow their own car. That was the moment one should not panic, and having not worried at all, I managed to calm down my taxi driver. I was anticipating the development that I will further narrate. As we moved, I came to notice that behind us no less than ten (10) motorbikes followed to accompany my taxi, carrying two or even three youngsters each.

Finally we reached the major traffic control point at the entrance of the Citadel, which was ensured by the military. Tanks, armoured vehicles and many soldiers were deployed around. There, the end of the trouble would occur; the youngsters handed over my papers to the head of the military, and disappeared, having carried an act that fully represents a feeling of loyalty and attachment to the army. Under similar circumstances, this was indeed the best thing for them to do. The military apologized to me because of the curfew and the ?trouble?, asked my destination, and handed over my papers back to me. We then proceeded to my destination, crossing numerous control points with fewer youngsters...

5. Isolation of the pro-Mubarak Protesters

Another indication of the great sense of civic duty shared by most of the Egyptians is the fact they totally isolated the pro-Mubarak protesters. Here again, it became a matter of passionate debate among Egyptians whether the pro-Mubarak manifesting crowd were real NDP members or police officers or even paid servants, who performed their spectacle after getting 50 LE or 100 LE each. Again here, one should replace the term ??police officers?? with ?? Organized Crime?? to be correct; but it would be highly unlikely that the latter may be involved in anything unrelated to money.

On the other hand, the assumption that people would go risking their lives for just 10 or 20 US $ (the equivalent of the above suggested prices in Egyptian pounds) is rather misplaced. If we assume that there were 10000 (ten thousand) pro-Mubarak protesters in Down Town Cairo - and I really don?t believe that this figure is wrong -, this would mean anything between 100000 and 200000 US $ as total operation cost. If we multiply this amount by five (5), which implies a total amount of US $ 1 million; the amount is minimal, if what is at stake is a 3-decade long presidential tenure. However, it does not make any sense to have ready supporters, eager to act and protest, and pay money instead, even though the amount sees to be minimal for the huge property made by the Mubarak family alone over the past decades.

It is true that the terminating president Mubarak does have many followers; of course, this expression is quite relative. ??Many followers?? does not mean 25% of the total population of the country, but with Egypt totalling ca. 82 million people, a meagre 5% represents already 4 million people across the country, and proportionally speaking, ca. 600000 - 700000 people in Cairo.

In my earlier article (as per above), I specified that ??Egypt?s socioeconomic elite was very small?? and that they ??totalled at the most ca. 200000 people??, adding that ??the Mubarak regime made it possible for the socio-economic elite to live as per Western standards ...., and simply put in jail those who with action or flagrant public speech threatened the continuation of the said social order??. In doing so, through the consecutive governments and administrations over the past three decades, Mubarak turned his NDP into a tool of social penetration and political support.

Many simple people, belonging to either the middle or the lower classes, found in the NDP membership a successful way to eliminate bureaucratic barriers in launching a business, obtain remarkable favours, and last but not least, find a job position that would otherwise be an impossible dream.

In this regard, NDP deputies managed to acquire a political clientele on whom they bestowed considerable socio-professional and economic privileges. These have been the typical NDP supporters; these were the pro-Mubarak voters in the last presidential and parliamentary elections whereby the abstention was extraordinarily high. And it is only normal for an Egyptian to surmise that the NDP supporters are more numerous in Manoufia and in Al Minya, provinces where the terminating president Mubarak and his wife respectively originate from.

This aforementioned is enough to elucidate the identity of the last week?s pro-Mubarak protesters; they were not paid thugs, as irrelevant Western mass media intentionally propagated in order to fabricate the fake and distorted image of the factoid that they were ordered to diffuse.

They were simple people who evidently did not want to lose their small benefits and privileges at the local level of a neighbourhood or at the professional level, e.g. their position in Egypt?s huge and dysfunctional public sector.

The fact that they were very few in demonstrating and fighting against the regime opponents does not say much; the anti-Mubarak protesters were also few - for a country of more than 80 million people. The reason for which the bulk of the existing supporters of the Mubarak regime did not show up in the events is the traditional Egyptian self-restrain and the overwhelming desire to limit the upheaval in a short and anodyne period of transition.

What happened to Egypt over the past 12 days? Was it a popular insurgence? Was it a real revolution? Was it a machinated fake rebellion? Could it have been avoided? To these questions, I will answer extensively in several forthcoming articles.

As a matter of fact, Mubarak?s mistakes must now be avoided by others in many parts of the world - to the benefit of all those who, wishing for the best, can bring forth a far worse socio-political situation without even imagining it.


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