The anniversary of the revolution is in less than 25 days. But new political forces, and perhaps even revolutionaries, remain neck-deep in murky waters; many are bickering among each other over who’s responsible for the uncertain path the revolution has taken. Established political groups, like the Freedom and Justice Party (the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood) and Wafdists, have pulled out of the conflict and are busying themselves with parliamentary elections — and why wouldn’t they when they’re clinching victory after victory? Despite a weak performance during the first round of elections for the lower house of parliament, known as the People’s Assembly, the new Wafd party picked up and came in third place in the number of seats attained in the second round following the Brothers, who came out on top, and the Salafis, who are the new kids on the block at second place.
“One has to be honest, the revolution is failing,” said Mahmoud Salem, a young politician, blogger and a former parliamentary hopeful who lost his seat to heavyweight political analyst Amr Hamzawy. Salem, known among internet users by his Twitter handle @sandmonkey, shot to fame during the revolt when he was ambushed by thugs who took his phone and destroyed his car. He has become a regular on foreign TV channels since then, commenting on the revolution on CNN and BBC, and quickly becoming one of the de-facto spokesmen of the uprising, at least to the outside world.
Salem was speaking at the end of December at a Cairo debate moderated by TV host Tim Sebastien of The Doha Debates fame. A random poll was conducted early on in the show, which aired last Wednesday on the German broadcaster Deutch Welle, questioning the success of the Egyptian revolution.
In a matter-of-fact tone, Salem listed during the December debate the reasons why he believed the revolt has not achieved its objectives. He blamed the military and police, saying that they had not restored dignity to Egyptian citizens, put many on military trials or in detention and added that this is “the only revolution that didn’t honor the people who did it.” He said it also didn’t bring democracy: “We had a referendum that ended with unclear results, elections with a big amount of violations.” If you don’t have “dignity, accountability, a future for Egyptians and democracy, then how is the revolution working? The military council promises every month to cede power, but it’s not happening.”
Salem was part of the debate with Tim Sebastian, facing off with a calm opponent, Khaled El Qazaz, a senior member of the FJP’s public relations team. El Qazaz, unlike Salem, was not unhappy with the results of the revolution, saying the elections introduced a level of democracy that “empowered people” and gave them a chance to choose their representatives, which are overwhelmingly Islamic in inclinations as is the case. He refused Salem’s claims that the elections’ results were fraudulent, insisting that “mistakes” do not compromise the legitimacy of the elections.
“The success of the revolution came at the cost of the pure blood of the people,” began El Qazaz. “If you look at people’s eyes before the revolution and after, [you’ll see that] the revolution has broken the barrier of fear. The people can now stand up against any tyrant.”
The notion seemed rather poetic, and it would have been believable if Salem and audience members hadn’t jumped in to remind El Qazaz — and those who, like him, believe we have taken strides in freeing ourselves since February 11 when former President Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down — that people are still dying in Tahrir.
The audience seemed haunted by images from several confrontations with army, police and Interior Ministry forces during the past 11 months, the last of which saw women, harassed, stripped and dragged by the hair across pavements. Video footage of bodies being discarded in the trash, protesters and army soldiers pelting each other with stones and concrete walls being erected to separate the ranks played and replayed on some TV channels like ONTV and CBC.
“The revolution brought dignity to Egyptians all over the world,” said El Qazaz. But Sebastian, a seasoned presenter, shot back, “Where is the dignity when women are being beaten and kicked on the street? Where’s the dignity in what the security forces are doing? People are still being tried in military courts.” A veiled member of the audience, a young woman, bellowed angrily in the microphone at El Qazaz from among the audience, “How can I trust the military when they’re killing me?”
The Muslim Brotherhood member retorted, “We are standing against it.” Of all political forces, the Brotherhood has received the lion’s share of criticism from fellow politicians and young revolutionaries over the past several months for allegedly striking behind-the-curtain deals with the military junta, abandoning Tahrir during many significant million-man marches and for being reluctant to stand up against army violations.
As Sebastian pressed on, El Qazaz admitted, “Right now, I do not trust the reaction of the military,” after several attempts to evade giving a straight statement against them.
At the end of the heated debate, another poll was held to see which side the audience was leaning toward. Sixty-two percent still thought the revolution was not working.
Mahmoud Salem, aka Sandmonkey, took part in last week's debate moderated by Tim Sebastien