May 18, 2011

Why this time around it will not work this way..

I hear the calls for the 2nd revolution. May 27th is being talked about as the new January 25th or even January 28th. I find that those who believe that a second round, will be equal to the first, to be unaware of the popularity (or lack thereof) of this revolution in the street today. I'm sure that the call for May 27th can probably put together 100'000 or 200'000 people. But are those the numbers that made the first round so successful? Nope. The first round did not succeed until the millions hit the streets. Do you believe that millions will hit the streets again this time? If your answer is YES, think again.

In the first round, revolutionaries had a clear set of demands but 90% of the people who hit the streets had only one demand: Mubarak to leave. It worked again – but less - for Shafik and that's where it ended. All the calls that followed did not bring the people to the streets. Don't talk to me about the couple of Fridays where "Egyptian tourists" went down to Tahrir to see what it looks like, to buy flags and stickers of the martyrs. The demands for May 27th are clear to me and to you, but not to the average man in the street. Not only do they not know them, many of those demands do not mean much to them at this stage.

You can laugh off the economic situation as much you like. You can tell me that the economy was in ruins before the revolution and that the revolution only exposed it. I agree we were in a lot of trouble but the fact remains that the economy has gone even worse and definitely the continuing instability isn't helping restore any part of it. You might be OK with another few months or maybe even a couple of years of economic instability but I hope you're not saying the same about the 70% of the population that lives below or just above poverty lines. Many of which have it much worse than they did before the revolution. If they hit the streets it will not be in search of democracy and freedom.

Again, you can laugh off the security situation. You can say that it's the police that are not doing their job. Bravo!! Good job with finger pointing. Is the second revolution going to restore security? Do you think the man in the street believes that more protests are going to help the security situation? Think again. The definition of protesting is – in fact – defying the rules. That's more chaos as far as your fellow citizens are concerned. And good luck convincing them that it's in their own best interest when just a few days ago there was a confrontation with the security forces in front of the Israeli embassy that ended up with a scene similar to January 28th. And good luck explaining that to them, when the average Egyptian thinks that the Doctor's strike means they can't go to a hospital and get treated. On top of all that, try to explain to them that you want to protest against the army, which as far as many is concerned, is the only protection for them from thugs, thieves and bad merchants and the only institution that is holding this country together right now. Ask your taxi driver, your grocer, the guy at the gas station. You will find out that many people are welcoming the use of force against protesters. They will tell you that they wish the army could round all of them up and put them in jail. Which is – very sadly – what is happening now.

The ability to put real pressure on this government and the SCAF comes from the ability to mobilize people. I'm sure – like I said above – that the second revolution will be attended by 100 or 200'000, maybe even 500'000. The referendum had 18 Million people. Even from a democratic point of view, half a million people as opposed to 18 Million or which 14 Million voted for a very specific course of action, doesn't really help make a point. Especially, when those same 18 Million are now getting fed up with the random acts of the revolution. Moreover, that some of the demands that I've seen so far are to do exactly the opposite of what people voted for (Presidential council and a new constitution before elections).

Even think from the point of view of a person who is aware of all the challenges that the revolution is facing; how do you think those people view the revolutionaries? Do you think that when every few people decide to tackle a different cause independently (regardless of how important or not important it is) that they look like they know where they are going? When you go on twitter and you see heated debates between revolutionaries about going one way or the other that end-up with each side going their own way, do you believe that this inspires the confidence needed to gather popular support? When someone expresses an opinion in the love of Egypt and then gets labeled a fascist, a traitor, a coward or an idiot just because Tweets don't agree with his/her solution for a problem, do you believe that this helps build support? Do you think that the calls for all the different causes that result in the distraction of everyone's focus for a democratic country helps mobilize more people or less?

Another thing to bear in mind: when someone is being targeted, the first rule of security is that such a person should not have a routine. Protests by now have a routine that everyone and their mothers know. If anyone wants to sabotage a protest, they can do it blindfolded. So, even if you can gather a few hundred thousand people for the next protest, what would happen if it is sabotaged? Who do you think will support it? If you decide to stage another sit-in, who will be on your side? Your fellow citizens are not happy with the revolution, so don't count on them.

What worked last time might not work this time. I could be wrong. But I think that you might want to entertain some of the following suggestions:
1.       Spend half the effort you're spending on tiwtter talking to people in the street, explaining what this revolution was about. Why they are going through those difficult times and what are the next steps (if you can agree to those steps in the first place). Show them a vision for the future, because none has that vision anymore. All they can see is a very dark future.
2.       Bring together the different revolutionaries. Make a conference. Agree on a workplan with clear priorities. Some people will have to sacrifice and accept that their own agenda aren't shared by everyone (it's a tough life, deal with it). Make sure that those priorities are focused and limited. Nothing should be more important at this stage than getting this country to democracy, all other problems will be solved with a healthy democratic system.
3.       Make sure that you can rally the different political forces behind you and that you can all agree on the course of action. One that will focus on the common priorities and will help all of us. Bring the media to support you and "elect" (yes it's called democracy) someone to talk on behalf of this coalition. I repeat: bring the media to support you and to rally people behind you.
4.       Acknowledge the concerns of the people. Just because you think that the economy was already in trouble before the revolution doesn't mean that it hasn't gotten even worse after and it doesn't mean that people are not scared. Admit that there is a security issue and it will not be resolved by breaking the police force again and again. Know that people are scared of addressing the army. Economy and security are the people's biggest concerns, the government keeps talking about them and you keep making fun of them. Who do you think they will follow? Don't turn a blind eye to the concerns of the people. Integrate those concerns in your workplan.
5.       Don't make a protest every 20 minutes. Prepare well for your next protest. Make it in 3 weeks, 4 weeks.. it doesn't matter. What's important is that the objectives are limited and clear. Build the support before you hit the streets. Have your elected speaker (or speakers) ready to talk to the media and to deliberate with the government on your behalf (it's called trust, yes.. it's a new thing we should try it). Make sure that the protest ends and that it doesn't turn into a sit-in. Organize the logistics well to make sure that you have the same levels of security you had during the 18 days. I would even attempt to inform the police officially before the protest in order to guarantee their presence and protection (wouldn't that embarrass them?).

The government isn't stupid, they are monitoring what is going on and they know that the people are falling away from the revolution. The biggest pressure you can put on them is when they realize you can bring the people back to the streets. So far, they know that you are losing the fight and they are getting Egyptians to rally behind them.


  1. I tend to agree with most of you say, especially the complete separation between Twitter and the real world. I meet with people in the streets and they have entirely different proprieties.
    However, if things go on the way they are right now, a second revolution is inevitable. For sure it won't be May 27th, but it's coming down the road.
    Unfortunately, the government lacks any sort of inspiration, SCAF lacks transparency and people lack sense of direction. Therefore, the revolution is in limbo-land. For instance, do you have any clue if we're going to have parliamentary elections in September (in 3 months from now)?
    A second revolution is inevitable because:
    1. what you perceive as elitist demands have always taken time but eventually found their way to become real popular demands, even if they are sometimes abstract. Remember, during the first days of the revolution the slogan was "bread, freedom and social justice"; it was not about Mubarak in the first place.
    The vision is blurred right now since we're gradually lacking a unified goal, as in the case of Mubarak or Shafiq, but things take their time to crystallize;
    2. More importantly, lack of leadership. Historically, similar revolutions went into years of labyrinth until they found true leadership, whether good or bad. As you see, there is no leadership in the horizon that can bring together people, or even hijack the revolution after all. It's the balance of the weak!
    Until someone grabs the revolution into a clear direction, all we can hope for, is to build the fundamentals of a modern, free and competitive state, which is sadly far from being reached with the current leaders in place.

    Protests are important to convey our concerns, however working with real people is more urging right now. Protests were a tool for a different stage, and if we want to move forward, we should develop more elaborate tools to achieve a much more challenging sgoal: Nation Building!!!

  2. Excellent post. How about translating it into Arabic and socializing it on Twitter?