Where Is the Leadership?

April 11, 2011 Uncategorized
“We express extreme grief and sadness over the fall of casualties but we urge the people to stay alert to the attempts to cause a rift between them and the military which supported their legitimate demands since the first day.”  So read the statement issued by such luminaries as Essam El Erian, George Ishak, and Amr Hamzawy this past Saturday, after the violent and frankly disgraceful attempt to clear Tahrir Square of protesters that morning.  These men called on the military to “display self control while dealing with the youths whose enthusiasm may motivate them to take actions that cause unrest during this difficult time.”

Sound familiar?  The words reek of the paternalism of the old regime, expressed time and time again during the days between the January 25th uprising and the February 11th resignation of ‘Papa Mubarak.’  As if on cue, the former president subjected Egyptians to a further instance of this thinking over the weekend, courtesy of Al-Arabiya… but if ever there was a time when Egyptians needed reminding of why they revolted, it is now.  El Erian, Ishak, Hamzawy, and their colleagues behind the statement seem particularly in need of a refresher in the spirit of the revolution.

Was all of this effort expended and sacrifice made for a mere change in personnel?  To my mind, there could exist no greater insult to the martyrs of the revolution than to suggest that this was all about Mubarak.  I say ‘no greater insult,’ because clearly, as made all too evident by his pathetic claim that he will pursue libel suits against all who defame him, for Mubarak himself, this is all about Mubarak.  In Mubarak’s mind, Egyptians proved themselves an undifferentiated mass of ingrates when they tossed him from office.

But who cares what Mubarak thinks?  What counts now are Mubarak’s successors and their attitudes to the Egyptian people and their revolution.  The members of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces have made their stance plain enough, in trampling so frequently and wantonly on the spirit of peaceful protest inaugurated on January 25th, protest carried forward with such courage and devotion by ordinary Egyptians to this day.  On March 9th, I witnessed one of these insults to the revolutionary spirit myself, from a balcony overlooking Tahrir, when the Square was quite literally overrun by thugs working in collusion with the military.

The attack appeared brutal enough to a visitor to Cairo, but of course, we would soon discover the far worse brutalities, the insults to human dignity, that happened behind the scenes: the transformation of a monument to human civilization, the Egyptian Museum, into a torture chamber; the merciless beating of peaceful protesters, like the singer Ramy Essam; and perhaps worst of all, the imposition of ‘virginity tests’ on the women protesters.  Disgusting, outrageous, despicable… I lack the vocabulary to describe how the purported ‘saviors’ of Egypt treated ordinary Egyptians on that day.  The contrast between the protesters, who made their views known in the clear light of day and without malice, and the military, who resorted to the dark halls of the Museum to wreak their vengeance, could not be more stark.

So when looking for leadership, I have looked not to the SCAF, but to the civilians who are now angling for power in the forthcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.  Yet, there too, in the emergent post-revolutionary political class, there seems to exist only cowardice, as demonstrated by the refusal to mount even the most tepid critique of the military.

This charge may seem harsh, and I can imagine my critics alleging that I expect too much from civilian leadership while Egypt is still ruled by the military.  All I can say is that the ordinary Egyptians who return Friday after Friday to Tahrir Square to demand democracy and justice seem unafflicted by the cowardice that prevails in the emergent political class.  They seem able to speak truth to power in a way that ElBaradei, Moussa, El Erian, Ishak, and Hamzawy are not.  In outpacing their civilian ‘leaders’ in their calls for a ‘new Egypt,’ these ordinary Egyptians demonstrate that the revolutionary spirit thrives as never before.  They are the ones who give me hope.  They are my leaders.

Update:  Amr Hamzawy appears to have withdrawn his support from the statement and disassociated himself from the Egyptian Social Democratic Party.  Further details here.

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