Betting on Egypt

At the strangest of times when I am in London, I remember Egypt – and vice versa. I am sitting in anticipation, like millions of people around the globe, awaiting the announcement of the presidential elections. I am irritated that instead of thinking of what everyone else is thinking, I an entertaining silly thoughts, like, for instance, how the English love to bet on everything and that walking past Paddy Power shop windows, I would, no doubt, be seeing “Morsi vs. Shafiq” signs. It’s different in Egypt though; not just because betting is prohibited (at least in public), but also because when you bet, one thing happens and not the other. And, as any politically aware person will tell you, the two candidate’s running this presidential race are not set to “win” anything. Whoever is announced, as being 50.9% in the lead and the people who are inclined one way or the other, will not “win”. This is the first election between two runners up where someone entirely out of the competition is in the lead.

Hysteria is gripping anyone who is thinking politics. Normality and apathy are the lived experience of anyone whose life in Egypt is a daily struggle to put food on the table that they have forgotten what day of the week it is. Many are bored and just as many are angry without really understanding what the results will actually mean. What do I think? I think that the results will mean nothing at all in terms of political relevance. Either president, who will be doing the victory dance for going down in history as the 5th President of Egypt, will really be celebrating becoming the new mask for those who really are in power – the mask for the next few months (yes, I do not think that this one will last the four year term).

People have turned an eye from the Constitutional Declaration issued by SCAF recently and are concentrating on which area (Nasr City) or (Tahrir) will be pulling at the fireworks (a lucrative business this time of year). This is the same mistake we are guilty of repeating for the last 18 months. We are a bunch of people easily distracted – rumors, shootouts, parliament (yes, even parliament turned out to be a distraction too) and we are not focusing on the real game. We were even recently distracted by how Mrs. Morsi chooses to dress – this highlighted the acute inconsistency we suffer. It is important to note that Khalid Saeed’s mother, who the very same people look to with the utmost pride, wears the same attire. It was also a shame to see that the liberals fighting for civil freedoms were the same ones poking fun at her.

The rat race – oh sorry, the presidential race – is not entirely political. It has been an opportunity to highlight the social differences people are battling with in Egypt. While there are no official records of the election results, indications show that Morsi won the vast majority of Upper Egypt’s votes (mainly impoverished areas) and Shafiq won most the Delta’s large constituencies (the urbanized affluent who have material things to protect). While people are occupied with legitimacy, it is these differences and the underlying fears and motivations that interest me and should interest all those who care for the long term welfare of this country; because, even if the results are non representative, the incentive behind voting for one candidate over the other is more than relevant.

The position taken by the activists was confusing. The race saw the Social Revolutionaries back Morsi – they would have backed the devil if he was the only opponent to any one at all connected to the old regime, but later changed position once Morsi refused to withdraw his candidacy after Parliament got dissolved. Some supported Morsi out of principles and others were accused of selling out their revolutionary spirit because their hatred and mistrust for the Brotherhood blinded them, so much so, that they began seeing ex air force commander Ahmed Shafiq (with SCAF behind him) will be the guardian of a ‘civilian’ state.

So we sit here with the same feeling you have when you are in a hospital waiting room knowing that you will get bad news shortly, just not knowing how bad. The only thing that’s keeping my spirits up is Egypt’s history of having a “brush your self off and get up” culture. I’m betting today, not on the politics of Egypt, but on the people who’s kindness, generosity and humor are mentioned in every book I have ever picked up that has been written on this magical land.

** Nelly Ai is an anthropologist who teaches at the Institute of Education, University of London and Anglia Ruskin University in the UK. She is currently in Cairo for her PhD research and is an active observer and commentator on Egypt and the Arab World.

This article was originally published on Bikya Masr here: Betting on Egypt.

Egypt, the Elections and a Culture of Waste

 

Piece originally published in Bikya Masr. Egypt, the elections and a culture of waste.

Everyone in Egypt is playing the guessing game. Conspiracy theorists are of one opinion one day and another the next – a great indication that win by either candidate is a disaster to both the future of Egypt and to the revolution. If the Muslim Brotherhood wins, it is the end of a dream towards a secular state and a blow to the struggle towards equality. If Shafiq wins, then it’s the end of the freedom of expression and many of us will probably be rounded up, legally of course, and we will be sold the idea of stability at the price of civil freedom. There is currently one thing that is occupying my mind more than the question everyone is trying to guess the answer to, of whether Moursi, or Shafiq will win the current Egyptian Presidential Elections. This thing is: waste.

I cannot get over the idea of waste in the last 18 months since the start of our fight to overthrow the 60 year old dictatorship in Egypt. The waste of life is self-explanatory – those who died during these months were peaceful protestors, mostly young with many dreams of a future with the most basic of rights demanded. They were part of a wider group of people that were counted in millions. Killing these hopefuls did not curb the numbers. The oppressors we are still fighting today wasted these precious people’s lives. But this is not the waste I am speaking of today. I am writing about material waste – money, time and opportunity. We have had, in the last 18 months, 3 occasions where the people of Egypt were granted official days off approved by governments which were not approved by the people and millions of scarce Egyptian pounds spent on campaigns, on the process – only to be told a few months later that their vote actually did not mean all that much and either the result was invalid or they were voting for something unconstitutional etc.

We were all proud in March 2011 when the queues for votes were longer than the queues for bread. I am not sure who went out counting either queue, but we were proud, nonetheless, and we saw this as the first fruit of democracy that we were reaping. People watched closely and began to lose focus as we started to lose understanding of how these votes were being used. The constitution; which the referendum was about got beaten and baked into a completely sour dish and not the cake people were expecting. Then, last winter, 9 months after the referendum, perhaps this is the length of time for Egyptians to get over their disappointments and forget, a huge Parliamentary campaign began for candidates whom we have never seen the faces of before. I was part of one of these campaigns. I was not advocating a party or a particular candidate; I was tagging along networking and grabbing the chance to visit parts of Egypt for my own PhD research. Again, all I could think of was “waste”.  Other than the obvious mishap this is for real democracy, whatever that term actually means, what angers me the most is the amount of wasted money in a country whose economy has been crippled by the uprising! I’m here doing research with street kids for my PhD. One of the most reputable organizations, Hope Village who does phenomenal work with these kids for the last 24 years has seen its donations fall by 50 % over the last year!

Everyone was complaining about the “wheel of production” (which, by the way, no one speaks of now since this wheel is not being touched by protestors any longer) and that Egypt was at the brink of a devastating economic fall. And here were candidates who spent millions for a chance of gaining and securing more votes in constituencies they knew nothing of, candidates who burnt their own campaign offices to create negative press for their opponents. The vote resulted in a parliament that was non-representative of the people and definitely not representative of the whole population – one look and you could not find Wally – where were the Copts? Where were the women? Actually, stop, where were the representatives of the revolution – and I am talking about the all the revolutionary youth, including the Muslim Brotherhood revolutionary youth? They were scattered and weak in numbers, weak in power and weak in support. If this was not enough to dampen the spirits of the voters who tuned into their TV sets to the embarrassment of a Parliament with no political experience, with no history of debate of compromise flooded their sets, then what did flood their enthusiasm was a ruling, backed by SCAF, 6 months later, which saw the entire parliament dissolved, as being unconstitutional. People were quick to call this a smooth military coup – umm, where were you on the 11th February 2012 when the smoothest of military coups was taking place?

This was all after the voters had taken their third leap of faith and gone out, again in millions, to vote for the next president. Here came the waste of opportunity. The final results showed that a vote for the “revolutionary” candidate’s far outweighed those that went for the votes towards fake stability (or candidate’s that had ties to the old regime). Now my question is, why did they not unite? Why were no coalitions formed, when four out of the twelve, yes twelve, candidates were revolutionary leftists?! And now we wait to see which twist of fate awaits us, for in Egypt, there is no logical sequence of events, it seems that the results, just like constitutional declarations are “divine” and cannot be predicted.

So here we are here awaiting the results of our wasted opportunities, we are kept busy by conspiracy predictions (did you know that a case that may see the Muslim Brotherhood declared void as a political party and have their assets confiscated was adjourned to September this year?) And of course, we are kept more then occupied with rumors. Do you have any idea, reader, how many times Hosni Mubarak died in the last fortnight?!

Even if we are to assume best intentions of all involved, Egypt today is in a complete political mess. I abstained. I boycotted – and, may I add, I did so proudly. I said it before, I will say it here for the record: voting for Moursi was like amputating the legs and arms of the revolution; voting Shafiq was like giving it a shot in the brain, close range. Depending on your views on Euthanasia, you would have voted. Personally, I don’t think we should have either maimed or killed the revolution. I believe that all things worthwhile take time, and we should be willing to sacrifice during this time and fight for a tomorrow that we may not live to see, but one which we would be proud of creating for generations to come, as long as we are insisting on bring them into this world.

Voting in Egypt’s Elections: Celebrating Democracy, or Dancing on the Grave of Martyrs?

I didn’t know whether voting was the right thing to do or not. I didn’t know whether voting was a betrayal to the blood and tears that were spilt in Tahrir or not. There was no one to ask because it seemed that if there were, say, a 100 people I trusted, half thought it was in honour of the martyred and the other half believed, just as strongly, it was a slap on the face of those who gave their all. What would give one half credibility over the other when by mere location I changed my mind! When I was in Tahrir, I knew – not just thought but knew – that voting would be betrayal. As soon as I was a mile outside the square, I knew I was being rational in deciding not to boycott.

That too was how the 100 I trusted were split. The first 50 were the voice of stability and progression. They were the voice of reason. That we had to celebrate the achievements we had gained so far, choose what would make us “administratively credible” and follow the well-thought strategies that would match up to the political world building itself around us while the most courageous of us died and were blinded at the front lines. This half wanted to taste the cookie of freedom even before it had finished baking. They wanted their share and they had many arguments for it. All reasonable. All credible.

The 50 that spat at those who were building up pride for their ink stained fingers, were the ones with their friends blood still wet on their hands. The ones who had lost the light of their eyes so that their vision of what it would take for this country to be truly free became clearer. They were the ones whose tents got burned but stood there and warmed their resolve to continue the fight in the warmth of those flames; fueled by the injustice of being betrayed by their own. What legitimacy could be afforded to elections that were being run, protected and praised by the very people who killed their family and friends only hours ago? They wanted their share of justice, their right to life before their right to vote. All reasonable. All credible.

Up until till the moment I sent the SMS to get details of where I’d be voting, I didn’t know if I’d go to the ballots. Standing in the queue of no less that 5000 women, I still didn’t know if I was doing the right thing. Answering questions from old, poor, illiterate women about who to vote for because they were in this queue because they couldn’t afford the fine, I still didn’t know whether I was pushing along a new born democracy or hiding behind a mask in a farce festival of freedoms.

But I ended up standing in this queue for 5 hours and 45 minutes. I ended up voting for a party I knew not much about and a candidate to represent me only because he had gone through as many ideological changes in his political life as I have religions. In total there were three ticks. I walked out knowing I had ticked for a party, a member of parliament and a representative of the workers. In my dreams that night I had a tick beside betrayal, a tick beside allowing the villains to get away and a tick beside handing over part of the revolution to the enemy.

I am writing this post as a sort of confession. I write it to let the 50 I trust know that I took their word for it and gave my voice to a process that was full of violations from the start and with results that none of them voted for. I write it because I forgot to ask, more than I should have asked the 100, I should have asked: Who did the 12,000 Egyptians on military trials and several hundred killed by our government vote for?

I write it to the martyrs to tell them how sorry I am if they are watching me in disappointment. Either way, I write it because I do not know if by voting I was celebrating democracy or dancing on the graves of those whose blood and tears fell on the ground nourishing freedom on the land on which they fell.