February 13, 2011 — New York Times
CAIRO — As protesters in Tahrir Square faced off against pro-government forces, they drew a lesson from their counterparts in Tunisia: “Advice to the youth of Egypt: Put vinegar or onion under your scarf for tear gas.”
The exchange on Facebook was part of a remarkable two-year collaboration that has given birth to a new force in the Arab world — a pan-Arab youth movement dedicated to spreading democracy in a region without it. Young Egyptian and Tunisian activists brainstormed on the use of technology to evade surveillance, commiserated about torture and traded practical tips on how to stand up to rubber bullets and organize barricades.
They fused their secular expertise in social networks with a discipline culled from religious movements and combined the energy of soccer fans with the sophistication of surgeons. Breaking free from older veterans of the Arab political opposition, they relied on tactics of nonviolent resistance channeled from an American scholar through a Serbian youth brigade — but also on marketing tactics borrowed from Silicon Valley.
As their swelling protests shook the Egyptian state, they were locked in a virtual tug of war with a leader with a very different vision — Gamal Mubarak, the son of President Hosni Mubarak, a wealthy investment banker and ruling-party power broker. Considered the heir apparent to his father until the youth revolt eliminated any thought of dynastic succession, the younger Mubarak pushed his father to hold on to power even after his top generals and the prime minister were urging an exit, according to American officials who tracked Hosni Mubarak’s final days.
The defiant tone of the president’s speech on Thursday, the officials said, was largely his son’s work.
“He was probably more strident than his father was,” said one American official, who characterized Gamal’s role as “sugarcoating what was for Mubarak a disastrous situation.” But the speech backfired, prompting Egypt’s military to force the president out and assert control of what they promise will be a transition to civilian government.
Now the young leaders are looking beyond Egypt. “Tunis is the force that pushed Egypt, but what Egypt did will be the force that will push the world,” said Walid Rachid, one of the members of the April 6 Youth Movement, which helped organize the Jan. 25 protests that set off the uprising. He spoke at a meeting on Sunday night where the members discussed sharing their experiences with similar youth movements in Libya, Algeria, Morocco and Iran.
“If a small group of people in every Arab country went out and persevered as we did, then that would be the end of all the regimes,” he said, joking that the next Arab summit might be “a coming-out party” for all the ascendant youth leaders.
Bloggers Lead the Way
The Egyptian revolt was years in the making. Ahmed Maher, a 30-year-old civil engineer and a leading organizer of the April 6 Youth Movement, first became engaged in a political movement known as Kefaya, or Enough, in about 2005. Mr. Maher and others organized their own brigade, Youth for Change. But they could not muster enough followers; arrests decimated their leadership ranks, and many of those left became mired in the timid, legally recognized opposition parties. “What destroyed the movement was the old parties,” said Mr. Maher, who has since been arrested four times.
By 2008, many of the young organizers had retreated to their computer keyboards and turned into bloggers, attempting to raise support for a wave of isolated labor strikes set off by government privatizations and runaway inflation.
After a strike that March in the city of Mahalla, Egypt, Mr. Maher and his friends called for a nationwide general strike for April 6. To promote it, they set up a Facebook group that became the nexus of their movement, which they were determined to keep independent from any of the established political groups. Bad weather turned the strike into a nonevent in most places, but in Mahalla a demonstration by the workers’ families led to a violent police crackdown — the first major labor confrontation in years.
Just a few months later, after a strike in Tunisia, a group of young online organizers followed the same model, setting up what became the Progressive Youth of Tunisia. The organizers in both countries began exchanging their experiences over Facebook. The Tunisians faced a more pervasive police state than the Egyptians, with less latitude for blogging or press freedom, but their trade unions were stronger and more independent. “We shared our experience with strikes and blogging,” Mr. Maher recalled.
For their part, Mr. Maher and his colleagues began reading about nonviolent struggles. They were especially drawn to a Serbian youth movement called Otpor, which had helped topple the dictator Slobodan Milosevic by drawing on the ideas of an American political thinker, Gene Sharp. The hallmark of Mr. Sharp’s work is well-tailored to Mr. Mubark’s Egypt: He argues thatnonviolence is a singularly effective way to undermine police states that might cite violent resistance to justify repression in the name of stability.
The April 6 Youth Movement modeled its logo — a vaguely Soviet looking red and white clenched fist—after Otpor’s, and some of its members traveled to Serbia to meet with Otpor activists.
Another influence, several said, was a group of Egyptian expatriates in their 30s who set up an organization in Qatar called the Academy of Change, which promotes ideas drawn in part on Mr. Sharp’s work. One of the group’s organizers, Hisham Morsy, was arrested during the Cairo protests and remained in detention.
“The Academy of Change is sort of like Karl Marx, and we are like Lenin,” said Basem Fathy, another organizer who sometimes works with the April 6 Youth Movement and is also the project director at the Egyptian Democratic Academy, which receives grants from the United States and focuses on human rights and election-monitoring. During the protesters’ occupation of Tahrir Square, he said, he used his connections to raise about $5,100 from Egyptian businessmen to buy blankets and tents.
‘This Is Your Country’
Then, about a year ago, the growing Egyptian youth movement acquired a strategic ally, Wael Ghonim, a 31-year-old Google marketing executive. Like many others, he was introduced into the informal network of young organizers by the movement that came together aroundMohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Prize-winning diplomat who returned to Egypt a year ago to try to jump-start its moribund political opposition.
Mr. Ghonim had little experience in politics but an intense dislike for the abusive Egyptian police, the mainstay of the government’s power. He offered his business savvy to the cause. “I worked in marketing, and I knew that if you build a brand you can get people to trust the brand,” he said.
The result was a Facebook group Mr. Ghonim set up: We Are All Khalid Said, after a young Egyptian who was beaten to death by police. Mr. Ghonim — unknown to the public, but working closely with Mr. Maher of the April 6 Youth Movement and a contact from Mr. ElBaradei’s group — said that he used Mr. Said’s killing to educate Egyptians about democracy movements.
He filled the site with video clips and newspaper articles about police violence. He repeatedly hammered home a simple message: “This is your country; a government official is your employee who gets his salary from your tax money, and you have your rights.” He took special aim at the distortions of the official media, because when the people “distrust the media then you know you are not going to lose them,” he said.
He eventually attracted hundreds of thousands of users, building their allegiance through exercises in online democratic participation. When organizers planned a “day of silence” in the Cairo streets, for example, he polled users on what color shirts they should all wear — black or white. (When the revolt exploded, the Mubarak government detained him for 12 days in blindfolded isolation in a belated attempt to stop his work.)
After the Tunisian revolution on Jan. 14, the April 6 Youth Movement saw an opportunity to turn its little-noticed annual protest on Police Day — the Jan. 25 holiday that celebrates a police revolt that was suppressed by the British — into a much bigger event. Mr. Ghonim used the Facebook site to mobilize support. If at least 50,000 people committed to turn out that day, the site suggested, the protest could be held. More than 100,000 signed up.
“I have never seen a revolution that was preannounced before,” Mr. Ghonim said.
By then, the April 6 movement had teamed up with Mr. ElBaradei’s supporters, some liberal and leftist parties, and the youth wing of the Muslim Brotherhood to plaster Cairo with eye-catching modernist posters advertising their Tunisia-inspired Police Day protest. But their elders — even members of the Brotherhood who had long been portrayed as extremists by Mr. Mubarak and the West — shied away from taking to the streets.
Explaining that Police Day was supposed to honor the fight against British colonialism, Essem Erian, a Brotherhood leader, said, “On that day we should all be celebrating together.
“All these people are on Facebook, but do we know who they are?” he asked. “We cannot tie our parties and entities to a virtual world.”
‘This Was It’
When the 25th came, the coalition of young activists, almost all of them affluent, wanted to tap into the widespread frustration with the country’s autocracy, and also with the grinding poverty of Egyptian life. They started their day trying to rally poor people with complaints about pocketbook issues: “They are eating pigeon and chicken, but we eat beans every day.”
By the end of the day, when tens of thousands had marched to Tahrir Square, their chants had become more sweeping. “The people want to bring down the regime,” they shouted, a slogan that the organizers said they had read in signs and on Facebook pages from Tunisia. Mr. Maher of the April 6 Youth Movement said the organizers even debated storming Parliament and the state television building — classic revolutionary moves.
“When I looked around me and I saw all these unfamiliar faces in the protests, and they were more brave than us — I knew that this was it for the regime,” Mr. Maher said.
It was then that they began to rely on advice from Tunisia, Serbia and the Academy of Change, which had sent staff members to Cairo a week before to train the protest organizers. After the police used tear gas to break up the protest that Tuesday, the organizers came back better prepared for their next march on Friday, the 28th, the “Day of Rage.”
This time, they brought lemons, onions and vinegar to sniff for relief from the tear gas, and soda or milk to pour into their eyes. Some had fashioned cardboard or plastic bottles into makeshift armor worn under their clothes to protect against riot police bullets. They brought spray paint to cover the windshields of police cars, and they were ready to stuff the exhaust pipes and jam the wheels to render them useless. By the early afternoon, a few thousand protesters faced off against well over a thousand heavily armed riot police officers on the four-lane Kasr al-Nile Bridge in perhaps the most pivotal battle of the revolution.
“We pulled out all the tricks of the game — the Pepsi, the onion, the vinegar,” said Mr. Maher, who wore cardboard and plastic bottles under his sweater, a bike helmet on his head and a barrel-top shield on his arm. “The strategy was the people who were injured would go to the back and other people would replace them,” he said. “We just kept rotating.” After more than five hours of battle, they had finally won — and burned down the empty headquarters of the ruling party on their way to occupy Tahrir Square.
In Washington that day, President Obama turned up, unexpectedly, at a 3:30 p.m. Situation Room meeting of his “principals,” the key members of the national security team, where he displaced Thomas E. Donilon, the national security adviser, from his seat at the head of the table.
The White House had been debating the likelihood of a domino effect since youth-driven revolts had toppled President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, even though the American intelligence community and Israel’s intelligence services had estimated that the risk to President Mubarak was low — less than 20 percent, some officials said.
According to senior officials who participated in Mr. Obama’s policy debates, the president took a different view. He made the point early on, a senior official said, that “this was a trend” that could spread to other authoritarian governments in the region, including in Iran. By the end of the 18-day uprising, by a White House count, there were 38 meetings with the president about Egypt. Mr. Obama said that this was a chance to create an alternative to “the Al Qaedanarrative” of Western interference.
American officials had seen no evidence of overtly anti-American or anti-Western sentiment. “When we saw people bringing their children to Tahrir Square, wanting to see history being made, we knew this was something different,” one official said.
On Jan. 28, the debate quickly turned to how to pressure Mr. Mubarak in private and in public — and whether Mr. Obama should appear on television urging change. Mr. Obama decided to call Mr. Mubarak, and several aides listened in on the line. Mr. Obama did not suggest that the 82-year-old leader step aside or transfer power. At this point, “the argument was that he really needed to do the reforms, and do them fast,” a senior official said. Mr. Mubarak resisted, saying the protests were about outside interference.
According to the official, Mr. Obama told him, “You have a large portion of your people who are not satisfied, and they won’t be until you make concrete political, social and economic reforms.”
The next day, the decision was made to send former Ambassador Frank G. Wisner to Cairo as an envoy. Mr. Obama began placing calls to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and other regional leaders.
The most difficult calls, officials said, were with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Mr. Netanyahu, who feared regional instability and urged the United States to stick with Mr. Mubarak. According to American officials, senior members of the government in Saudi Arabia argued that the United States should back Mr. Mubarak even if he used force against the demonstrators. By Feb. 1, when Mr. Mubarak broadcast a speech pledging that he would not run again and that elections would be held in September, Mr. Obama concluded that the Egyptian president still had not gotten the message.
Within an hour, Mr. Obama called Mr. Mubarak again in the toughest, and last, of their conversations. “He said if this transition process drags out for months, the protests will, too,” one of Mr. Obama’s aides said.
Mr. Mubarak told Mr. Obama that the protests would be over in a few days.
Mr. Obama ended the call, the official said, with these words: “I respect my elders. And you have been in politics for a very long time, Mr. President. But there are moments in history when just because things were the same way in the past doesn’t mean they will be that way in the future.”
The next day, heedless of Mr. Obama’s admonitions, Mr. Mubarak launched another attack against the protesters, many of whom had by then spent five nights camped out in Tahrir Square. By about 2:30 p.m., thousands of burly men loyal to Mr. Mubarak and armed with rocks, clubs and, eventually, improvised explosives had come crashing into the square.
The protesters — trying to stay true to the lessons they had learned from Gandhi, the Rev. Dr.Martin Luther King Jr. and Gene Sharp — tried for a time to avoid retaliating. A row of men stood silent as rocks rained down on them. An older man told a younger one to put down his stick.
But by 3:30 p.m., the battle was joined. A rhythmic din of stones on metal rang out as the protesters beat street lamps and fences to rally their troops.
The Muslim Brotherhood, after sitting out the first day, had reversed itself, issuing an order for all able-bodied men to join the occupation of Tahrir Square. They now took the lead. As a secret, illegal organization, the Brotherhood was accustomed to operating in a disciplined hierarchy. The group’s members helped the protesters divide into teams to organize their defense, several organizers said. One team broke the pavement into rocks, while another ferried the rocks to makeshift barricades along their perimeter and the third defended the front.
“The youth of the Muslim Brotherhood played a really big role,” Mr. Maher said. “But actually so did the soccer fans” of Egypt’s two leading teams. “These are always used to having confrontations with police at the stadiums,” he said.
Soldiers of the Egyptian military, evidently under orders to stay neutral, stood watching from behind the iron gates of the Egyptian Museum as the war of stone missiles and improvised bombs continued for 14 hours until about four in the morning.
Then, unable to break the protesters’ discipline or determination, the Mubarak forces resorted to guns, shooting 45 and killing 2, according to witnesses and doctors interviewed early that morning. The soldiers — perhaps following orders to prevent excessive bloodshed, perhaps acting on their own — finally intervened. They fired their machine guns into the ground and into the air, several witnesses said, scattering the Mubarak forces and leaving the protesters in unmolested control of the square, and by extension, the streets.
Once the military demonstrated it was unwilling to fire on its own citizens, the balance of power shifted. American officials urged the army to preserve its bond with the Egyptian people by sending top officers into the square to reassure the protesters, a step that further isolated Mr. Mubarak. But the Obama administration faltered in delivering its own message: Two days after the worst of the violence, Mr. Wisner publicly suggested that Mr. Mubarak had to be at the center of any change, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned that any transition would take time. Other American officials suggested Mr. Mubarak might formally stay in office until his term ended next September. Then a four-day-long stalemate ensued, in which Mr. Mubarak refused to budge, and the protesters regained momentum.
On Thursday, Mr. Mubarak’s vice president, Omar Suleiman, was on the phone with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. at 2 p.m. in Washington, the third time they had spoken in a week. The airwaves were filled with rumors that Mr. Mubarak was stepping down, and Mr. Suleiman told Mr. Biden that he was preparing to assume Mr. Mubarak’s powers. But as he spoke to Mr. Biden and other officials, Mr. Suleiman said that “certain powers” would remain with Mr. Mubarak, including the power to dissolve the Parliament and fire the cabinet. “The message from Suleiman was that he would be the de facto president,” one person involved in the call said.
But while Mr. Mubarak huddled with his son Gamal, the Obama administration was in the dark about how events would unfold, reduced to watching cable television to see what Mr. Mubarak would decide. What they heard on Thursday night was a drastically rewritten speech, delivered in the unbowed tone of the father of the country, with scarcely any mention of a presumably temporary “delegation” of his power.
It was that rambling, convoluted address that proved the final straw for the Egyptian military, now fairly certain that it would have Washington’s backing if it moved against Mr. Mubarak, American officials said. Mr. Mubarak’s generals ramped up the pressure that led him at last, without further comment, to relinquish his power.
“Eighty-five million people live in Egypt, and less than 1,000 people died in this revolution — most of them killed by the police,” said Mr. Ghonim, the Google executive. “It shows how civilized the Egyptian people are.” He added, “Now our nightmare is over. Now it is time to dream.”
David D. Kirkpatrick reported from Cairo, and David E. Sanger from Washington. Kareem Fahim and Mona El-Naggar contributed reporting from Cairo, and Mark Mazzetti from Washington.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: February 17, 2011
An article on Monday about the collaboration between young Tunisian and Egyptian activists that helped lead to the revolutions in their countries misspelled the name of a city in Egypt where a violent police crackdown in March 2008 proved to be an important event in the evolution of the Egyptian opposition movement. It is Mahalla, not Malhalla.
Suez Canal Workers Join Broad Strikes in Egypt
February 17, 2011 New York Times
CAIRO — Hundreds of workers went on strike on Thursday along the Suez Canal, one of the world’s strategic waterways, joining others across Egypt pressing demands for better wages and conditions. The protests have sent the economy reeling and defied the military’s attempt to restore a veneer of the ordinary after President Hosni Mubarak’s fall last week.
The labor unrest this week at textile mills, pharmaceutical plants, chemical industries, the Cairo airport, the transportation sector and banks has emerged as one of the most powerful dynamics in a country navigating the military-led transition that followed an 18-day popular uprising and the end of Mr. Mubarak’s three decades of rule.
Banks reopened last week, but amid a wave of protests over salaries and management abuses promptly shut again this week. The opening of schools was delayed another week, and a date has yet to be set for opening the stock market, which some fear may plummet over the economic reverberations and anxiety about the political transition.
The military has repeatedly urged workers to end their strikes, to no avail.
“For 30 years, there were no protests at all — well, not really — and now that’s all there is,” said Ibrahim Aziz, a merchant in downtown Cairo. “The situation’s a mess.”
For days now, the military leadership has sought to steer a country in the throes of a political transition that could remake Egypt more dramatically than at any time since the monarchy was overthrown in 1952. In a series of statements, it outlined steps to amend the Constitution and return Egypt to civilian leadership within six months, though the exact date for elections for the presidency and Parliament was left ambiguous.
So far the military seems to enjoy broad popular support, not least for forcing the departure of Mr. Mubarak to his residence in the Sinai town of Sharm el Sheik, though some have complained of decision-making that remains utterly opaque to the public. Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel laureate and critic of Mr. Mubarak, complained this week about that lack of transparency and the speed of the transition the military has outlined.
Other critics have questioned why the military has refused to free thousands of political prisoners and lift the Emergency Law, which gave the Mubarak government wide powers in arresting and imprisoning people it deemed opponents. Thursday was the second day without the military’s issuing any communiqués on its intentions in the weeks ahead, and questions about forming political parties and civil rights are left unanswered.
“There has not been very much coming out about what I call the infrastructure — even the temporary infrastructure — for democracy,” a Western diplomat in Cairo said Thursday. “That seems to me an area where further clarification would be important.”
The diplomat said Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi had emerged as the clear leader of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, to which Mr. Mubarak delegated power when he resigned last Friday. “Tantawi seems to be the acting president of Egypt,” the diplomat said. Though the council has maintained contacts with the United States through the Defense Department and the National Security Council, it has proved disciplined in keeping its deliberations from diplomats and opposition leaders.
“What one would have liked to see is more transparency in this whole Supreme Council deliberation process,” the diplomat said under customary rules of anonymity.
Egypt’s revolution was, in some ways, remarkable for the consensus over its demands, primarily the end to Mr. Mubarak’s authoritarian rule, with disparate ideologies subsumed in the narrative of a popular uprising. But already this week some of the fundamental rules that have underlined republican Egypt have begun to be renegotiated.
The head of Al-Azhar, once one of the world’s foremost institutions of religious scholarship, has called for its leadership to be elected, not appointed by the government, a change that could reverse decades of the institution’s abject subordination to the state. The strikes may prove no less decisive as they gather momentum in turning back years of privatization that left workers with fewer protections and more grievances.
In a statement Thursday, striking workers in Mahalla el-Kobra, the center of the country’s textile industry and a stronghold of labor resistance in the Nile Delta, said that they would no longer take part in a government-controlled labor union but that they would rather join the new Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions, which it said was set up on Jan. 30.
The striking workers at the Suez Canal Authority said their protests in the three major canal cities — Suez, Port Said and Ismailiya — would not interfere with the operations of the canal, which links the Mediterranean with the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. One of the world’s busiest waterways, the canal serves as one of Egypt’s primary sources of revenue and a major transit route for global shipping and oil.
Other strikes were reported at textile plants in the coastal city of Damietta and a pharmaceutical factory in Alexandria, Egypt’s second-largest city. Taken together they are thought to number in the tens of thousands of workers in one of Egypt’s most pronounced episodes of labor unrest. The problems point to a growing challenge for the military and the caretaker government: How to satisfy demands as the economy staggers.
“Everyone is looking for money, and there is none to be had,” said Hani Shukrallah, a political analyst and editor.
The economic woes have done little to dim the surge of optimism voiced in both Cairo and the countryside. Just days after the tumult in Tahrir Square, among the few telltale signs of the protests are vendors hawking Egyptian flags, and a memorial to protesters killed on Jan. 25 and the demonstrations that followed. On the lawyers’ syndicate building a banner called for Thursday to be a “Day of Purification.” Young protest leaders posted a plea on the walls of buildings in a nearby square to persist in their revolutionary fervor.
“From this day, your country is yours,” one read. “Don’t throw trash, don’t disobey traffic signals, don’t pay bribes, don’t forge papers and complain about anyone who neglects their job. This is your chance to build your country with your hand.”
It was signed “Youth of the Jan. 25 Revolution.”
“The problem with the old system was that it separated us,” said Sherif Abdel-Aziz, 34, a businessman. “Nothing brought us together. Everyone lived to eat and survive, and you didn’t even care about your brother. Now people want to do something.”
Kareem Fahim contributed reporting.
Shy U.S. Intellectual Created Playbook Used in a Revolution
February 16, 2011 — New York Times
BOSTON — Halfway around the world from Tahrir Square in Cairo, an aging American intellectual shuffles about his cluttered brick row house in a working-class neighborhood here. His name is Gene Sharp. Stoop-shouldered and white-haired at 83, he grows orchids, has yet to master the Internet and hardly seems like a dangerous man.
But for the world’s despots, his ideas can be fatal.
Few Americans have heard of Mr. Sharp. But for decades, his practical writings on nonviolent revolution — most notably “From Dictatorship to Democracy,” a 93-page guide to toppling autocrats, available for download in 24 languages — have inspired dissidents around the world, including in Burma, Bosnia, Estonia and Zimbabwe, and now Tunisia and Egypt.
When Egypt’s April 6 Youth Movement was struggling to recover from a failed effort in 2005, its leaders tossed around “crazy ideas” about bringing down the government, said Ahmed Maher, a leading strategist. They stumbled on Mr. Sharp while examining the Serbian movement Otpor, which he had influenced.
When the nonpartisan International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, which trains democracy activists, slipped into Cairo several years ago to conduct a workshop, among the papers it distributed was Mr. Sharp’s “198 Methods of Nonviolent Action,” a list of tactics that range fromhunger strikes to “protest disrobing” to “disclosing identities of secret agents.”
Dalia Ziada, an Egyptian blogger and activist who attended the workshop and later organized similar sessions on her own, said trainees were active in both the Tunisia and Egypt revolts. She said that some activists translated excerpts of Mr. Sharp’s work into Arabic, and that his message of “attacking weaknesses of dictators” stuck with them.
Peter Ackerman, a onetime student of Mr. Sharp who founded the nonviolence center and ran the Cairo workshop, cites his former mentor as proof that “ideas have power.”
Mr. Sharp, hard-nosed yet exceedingly shy, is careful not to take credit. He is more thinker than revolutionary, though as a young man he participated in lunch-counter sit-ins and spent nine months in a federal prison in Danbury, Conn., as a conscientious objector during the Korean War. He has had no contact with the Egyptian protesters, he said, although he recently learned that the Muslim Brotherhood had “From Dictatorship to Democracy” posted on its Web site.
While seeing the revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak as a sign of “encouragement,” Mr. Sharp said, “The people of Egypt did that — not me.”
He has been watching events in Cairo unfold on CNN from his modest house in East Boston, which he bought in 1968 for $150 plus back taxes.
It doubles as the headquarters of the Albert Einstein Institution, an organization Mr. Sharp founded in 1983 while running seminars at Harvard and teaching political science at what is now the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. It consists of him; his assistant, Jamila Raqib, whose family fled Soviet oppression in Afghanistan when she was 5; a part-time office manager and a Golden Retriever mix named Sally. Their office wall sports a bumper sticker that reads “Gotov Je!” — Serbian for “He is finished!”
In this era of Twitter revolutionaries, the Internet holds little allure for Mr. Sharp. He is not onFacebook and does not venture onto the Einstein Web site. (“I should,” he said apologetically.) If he must send e-mail, he consults a handwritten note Ms. Raqib has taped to the doorjamb near his state-of-the-art Macintosh computer in a study overflowing with books and papers. “To open a blank e-mail,” it reads, “click once on icon that says ‘new’ at top of window.”
Some people suspect Mr. Sharp of being a closet peacenik and a lefty — in the 1950s, he wrote for a publication called “Peace News” and he once worked as personal secretary to A. J. Muste, a noted labor union activist and pacifist — but he insists that he outgrew his own early pacifism and describes himself as “trans-partisan.”
Based on studies of revolutionaries like Gandhi, nonviolent uprisings, civil rights struggles, economic boycotts and the like, he has concluded that advancing freedom takes careful strategy and meticulous planning, advice that Ms. Ziada said resonated among youth leaders in Egypt. Peaceful protest is best, he says — not for any moral reason, but because violence provokes autocrats to crack down. “If you fight with violence,” Mr. Sharp said, “you are fighting with your enemy’s best weapon, and you may be a brave but dead hero.”
Autocrats abhor Mr. Sharp. In 2007, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela denounced him, and officials in Myanmar, according to diplomatic cables obtained by the anti-secrecy groupWikiLeaks, accused him of being part of a conspiracy to set off demonstrations intended “to bring down the government.” (A year earlier, a cable from the United States Embassy in Damascus noted that Syrian dissidents had trained in nonviolence by reading Mr. Sharp’s writings.)
In 2008, Iran featured Mr. Sharp, along with Senator John McCain of Arizona and the Democratic financier George Soros, in an animated propaganda video that accused Mr. Sharp of being the C.I.A. agent “in charge of America’s infiltration into other countries,” an assertion his fellow scholars find ludicrous.
“He is generally considered the father of the whole field of the study of strategic nonviolent action,” said Stephen Zunes, an expert in that field at the University of San Francisco. “Some of these exaggerated stories of him going around the world and starting revolutions and leading mobs, what a joke. He’s much more into doing the research and the theoretical work than he is in disseminating it.”
That is not to say Mr. Sharp has not seen any action. In 1989, he flew to China to witness the uprising in Tiananmen Square. In the early 1990s, he sneaked into a rebel camp in Myanmar at the invitation of Robert L. Helvey, a retired Army colonel who advised the opposition there. They met when Colonel Helvey was on a fellowship at Harvard; the military man thought the professor had ideas that could avoid war. “Here we were in this jungle, reading Gene Sharp’s work by candlelight,” Colonel Helvey recalled. “This guy has tremendous insight into society and the dynamics of social power.”
Not everyone is so impressed. As’ad AbuKhalil, a Lebanese political scientist and founder of the Angry Arab News Service blog, was outraged by a passing mention of Mr. Sharp in The New York Times on Monday. He complained that Western journalists were looking for a “Lawrence of Arabia” to explain Egyptians’ success, in a colonialist attempt to deny credit to Egyptians.
Still, just as Mr. Sharp’s profile seems to be expanding, his institute is contracting.
Mr. Ackerman, who became wealthy as an investment banker after studying under Mr. Sharp, contributed millions of dollars and kept it afloat for years. But about a decade ago, Mr. Ackerman wanted to disseminate Mr. Sharp’s ideas more aggressively, as well as his own. He put his money into his own center, which also produces movies and even a video game to train dissidents. An annuity he purchased still helps pay Mr. Sharp’s salary.
In the twilight of his career, Mr. Sharp, who never married, is slowing down. His voice trembles and his blue eyes grow watery when he is tired; he gave up driving after a recent accident. He does his own grocery shopping; his assistant, Ms. Raqib, tries to follow him when it is icy. He does not like it.
He says his work is far from done. He has just submitted a manuscript for a new book, “Sharp’s Dictionary of Power and Struggle: Terminology of Civil Resistance in Conflicts,” to be published this fall by Oxford University Press. He would like readers to know he did not pick the title. “It’s a little immodest,” he said. He has another manuscript in the works about Einstein, whose own concerns about totalitarianism prompted Mr. Sharp to adopt the scientist’s name for his institution. (Einstein wrote the foreword to Mr. Sharp’s first book, about Gandhi.)
In the meantime, he is keeping a close eye on the Middle East. He was struck by the Egyptian protesters’ discipline in remaining peaceful, and especially by their lack of fear. “That is straight out of Gandhi,” Mr. Sharp said. “If people are not afraid of the dictatorship, that dictatorship is in big trouble.”
Andrew W. Lehren contributed reporting from New York, and David D. Kirkpatrick from Cairo.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: February 19, 2011
An article on Thursday about Gene Sharp, the author of a treatise on toppling autocrats, misspelled the surname of his assistant at the Albert Einstein Institution, which he founded. She is Jamila Raqib, not Raquib.
BY TINA ROSENBERG | FEBRUARY 16, 2011
Early in 2008, workers at a government-owned textile factory in the Egyptian mill town of El-Mahalla el-Kubra announced that they were going on strike on the first Sunday in April to protest high food prices and low wages. They caught the attention of a group of tech-savvy young people an hour’s drive to the south in the capital city of Cairo, who started a Facebook group to organize protests and strikes on April 6 throughout Egypt in solidarity with the mill workers. To their shock, the page quickly acquired some 70,000 followers.
But what worked so smoothly online proved much more difficult on the street. Police occupied the factory in Mahalla and headed off the strike. The demonstrations there turned violent: Protesters set fire to buildings, and police started shooting, killing at least two people. The solidarity protests around Egypt, meanwhile, fizzled out, in most places blocked by police. The Facebook organizers had never agreed on tactics, whether Egyptians should stay home or fill the streets in protest. People knew they wanted to do something. But no one had a clear idea of what that something was.
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The botched April 6 protests, the leaders realized in their aftermath, had been an object lesson in the limits of social networking as a tool of democratic revolution. Facebook could bring together tens of thousands of sympathizers online, but it couldn’t organize them once they logged off. It was a useful communication tool to call people to — well, to what? The April 6 leaders did not know the answer to this question. So they decided to learn from others who did. In the summer of 2009, Mohamed Adel, a 20-year-old blogger and April 6 activist, went to Belgrade, Serbia.
The Serbian capital is home to the Center for Applied NonViolent Action and Strategies, or CANVAS, an organization run by young Serbs who had cut their teeth in the late 1990s student uprising against Slobodan Milosevic. After ousting him, they embarked on the ambitious project of figuring out how to translate their success to other countries. To the world’s autocrats, they are sworn enemies — both Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and Belarus’s Aleksandr Lukashenko have condemned them by name. (“They think we are bringing a revolution in our suitcase,” one of CANVAS’s leaders told me.) But to a young generation of democracy activists from Harare to Rangoon to Minsk to Tehran, the young Serbs are heroes. They have worked with democracy advocates from more than 50 countries. They have advised groups of young people on how to take on some of the worst governments in the world — and in Georgia, Ukraine, Syria-occupied Lebanon, the Maldives, and now Egypt, those young people won.
Echoes of Belgrade
From Minsk to Cairo, uprisings that have been influenced by Serbia’s 2000 Bulldozer Revolution.
In Belgrade, Adel took a week-long course in the strategies of nonviolent revolution. He learned how to organize people — not on a computer, but in the streets. And most importantly, he learned how to train others. He went back to Egypt and began to teach. The April 6 Youth Movement, along with a similar group called Kefaya, became the most important organizers of the 18-day peaceful uprising that culminated in President Hosni Mubarak’s departure on Feb. 11. “The April 6 Movement and Kifaya are the groups that have led the charge in actually getting protesters organized and onto the streets,” a Feb. 3 report from the geopolitical analysis group Stratfor said. The tactics were straight out of CANVAS’s training curriculum. “I got trained in how to conduct peaceful demonstrations, how to avoid violence, and how to face violence from the security forces … and also how to organize to get people on the streets,” Adel said of his experience with the Serbs, in an interview with Al Jazeera English on Feb. 9. “We were quite amazed they did so much with so little,” Srdja Popovic, one of CANVAS’s leaders, told me.
As nonviolent revolutions have swept long-ruling regimes from power in Tunisia and Egypt and threaten the rulers of nearby Algeria, Bahrain, and Yemen, the world’s attention has been drawn to the causes — generations of repressive rule — and tools — social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter — animating the wave of revolt. But as the members of the April 6 movement learned, these elements alone do not a revolution make. What does? In the past, the discontented availed themselves of the sweeping forces of geopolitics: the fall of regimes in Latin America and the former Soviet bloc was largely a product of the withdrawal of superpower support for dictatorships and the consolidation of liberal democracy as a global ideal. But the global clash of ideologies is over, and plenty of dictators remain — so what do we do?
The answer, for democratic activists in an ever-growing list of countries, is to turn to CANVAS. Better than other democracy groups, CANVAS has built a durable blueprint for nonviolent revolution: what to do to grow from a vanload of people into a mass movement and then use those masses to topple a dictator. CANVAS has figured out how to turn a cynical, passive, and fearful public into activists. It stresses unity, discipline, and planning — tactics that are basic to any military campaign, but are usually ignored by nonviolent revolutionaries. There will be many moments during a dictatorship that galvanize public anger: a hike in the price of oil, the assassination of an opposition leader, corrupt indifference to a natural disaster, or simply the confiscation by the police of a produce cart. In most cases, anger is not enough — it simply flares out. Only a prepared opponent will be able to use such moments to bring down a government.
“Revolutions are often seen as spontaneous,” Ivan Marovic, a former CANVAS trainer, told me in Washington a few years ago. “It looks like people just went into the street. But it’s the result of months or years of preparation. It is very boring until you reach a certain point, where you can organize mass demonstrations or strikes. If it is carefully planned, by the time they start, everything is over in a matter of weeks.”
CANVAS is hardly the first organization to teach people living under dictatorship the skills they can use to overthrow it; the U.S. government and its allies have funded democracy-promotion organizations around the world since the early years of the Cold War. Living under two dictatorships — Chile under Augusto Pinochet and Nicaragua under the Sandinistas — and visiting perhaps a dozen others, I had seen armies of them at work and served as an election monitor myself. But I had never seen anything like CANVAS.
Traditional democracy-promotion groups like to collaborate with well-credentialed opposition parties and civil society groups; CANVAS prefers to work with rookies. The theory is that established parties and organizations under a dictator are usually too tired and tainted to be able to topple him, and that hope rests instead with idealistic outsiders, often students. The Serbs are not the usual highly paid consultants in suits from wealthy countries; they look more like, well, cocky students. They bring a cowboy swagger. They radiate success. Everyone they teach wants to do what the Serbs did.
If CANVAS has torn up the old democracy-promotion playbook, it’s because the group’s leaders have drawn up a new one, taken from their own firsthand experience. The group traces its roots to an October 1998 meeting in a cafe in Belgrade, where Popovic, a tall, sharp-featured man, then 25 and a student of marine biology at Belgrade University, had called several of his fellow students together. At the time, Milosevic had been in office for nine years and was firmly entrenched in power. He had started and lost three wars and was in the process of launching a fourth, in Kosovo. Popovic and his friends had been active in student protests for years. They had marched for 100 days in a row, but their efforts had yielded next to nothing. “It was a meeting of desperate friends,” Popovic says. “We were at the bottom of a depression.”
The students christened themselves Otpor! — “Resistance!” in Serbian — and began rethinking revolution. The first and most daunting obstacle was the attitude of their countrymen. Surveys taken by the opposition showed that most Serbs wanted Milosevic to go. But they believed his ouster was simply impossible, or at least too dangerous to try. And Serbia’s extant political opposition was hardly inspiring: Even the anti-Milosevic parties were largely vehicles for their leaders’ personal ambitions.
But Otpor’s founders realized that young people would participate in politics — if it made them feel heroic and cool, part of something big. It was postmodern revolution. “Our product is a lifestyle,” Marovic explained to me. “The movement isn’t about the issues. It’s about my identity. We’re trying to make politics sexy.” Traditional politicians saw their job as making speeches and their followers’ job as listening to them; Otpor chose to have collective leadership, and no speeches at all. And if the organization took inspiration from Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., it also took cues from Coca-Cola, with its simple, powerful message and strong brand. Otpor’s own logo was a stylized clenched fist — an ironic, mocking expropriation of the symbol of the Serb Partisans in World War II, and of communist movements everywhere.
Otpor steered clear of the traditional opposition tactics of marches and rallies — partly out of necessity, because the group didn’t have enough people to pull them off. Instead of political parties’ gravity and bombast, Otpor adopted the sensibility of a TV show its leaders had grown up watching: Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Its daily work consisted of street theater and pranks that made the government look silly and won coverage from opposition media. Wit was perhaps not always achieved, but it was always the aim.
The most famous stunt involved an oil barrel painted with Milosevic’s picture. Otpor rolled it down a busy street, asking people to insert a coin in a slot for the privilege of whacking Milosevic with a bat. This was Otpor’s favorite kind of prank, a dilemma action: It left the regime damned either way. If the government had let the barrel roll, it would have looked weak. But when the police stepped in, the optics were no better: The Otpor members fled, and the opposition TV the next day showed pictures of the police “arresting” a barrel and loading it into the police van. The country sniggered at these pranks — and signed up for Otpor.
Rather than trying to avoid arrests, Otpor decided to provoke them and use them to the movement’s advantage. After a few months it became evident that while police would rough up Otpor members, torture was rare and few of them would even be kept overnight. When any Otpor member was arrested, the organization sent a noisy crowd to hang out on the street outside the police station. Detainees would emerge from the police station to find a pack of opposition journalists and a cheering crowd of friends. Young men competed to rack up the most arrests. If wearing Otpor’s signature fist-emblazoned black T-shirt made you an insider in the revolution, getting arrested made you a rock star. People who once thought of themselves as victims learned to think of themselves as heroes.
Two years after its founding, Otpor’s 11 members had become more than 70,000. “The signal thing they did that should never be lost is that they made it OK for Serbs to say publicly that the regime was not invincible, that many Serbs shared a sense that change could come,” said James O’Brien, the Clinton administration’s special envoy to the Balkans. By the time Milosevic ran for reelection as president of Yugoslavia in September 2000, Otpor’s prolonged protest campaign — and Milosevic’s attempts to suppress it — had eroded the president’s popularity and emboldened and helped to unify the opposition. When Milosevic refused to concede defeat to opposition candidate Vojislav Kostunica, Otpor’s example of disciplined nonviolence, along with its masses of activists, were crucial in convincing Serbia’s security forces to defy Milosevic’s orders to shoot at the protesters. On Oct. 7, the embattled president resigned.
The unthinkable had happened. For the young Serbs, the next step was figuring out how to export it.
Within a few months of Milosevic’s ouster, Otpor’s leaders began to get calls from democracy activists in other countries eager to copy the movement’s success. Slobodan Djinovic, one of Otpor’s original organizers, began traveling to Belarus, meeting clandestinely with a student movement there. It was soon infiltrated, however, and eventually collapsed.
Djinovic had more success in Georgia, where a group of young people had founded a movement called Kmara! (“Enough!”). In 2002, Djinovic and other Otpor leaders began visiting, and hosting Kmara students in Serbia. After Eduard Shevardnadze, the former Soviet functionary who had served as Georgia’s president since 1995, stole the country’s November 2003 elections, a movement led by Kmara forced him out in what became known as the Rose Revolution. It was followed by the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, where former Otpor activists spent months advising the Pora (“It’s Time”) youth movement.
On a trip to South Africa to train Zimbabweans in 2003, Djinovic and Popovic decided to establish CANVAS. At the time, Popovic was a member of parliament, but he stepped down in 2004, preferring a career as an organizer and a revolutionary. Djinovic had founded Serbia’s first wireless Internet service provider in 2000 and was well on his way to becoming a mogul. Today he is head of Serbia’s largest private internet and phone company and funds about half of CANVAS’s operating expenses and the costs for half the training workshops out of his own pocket. (CANVAS has four and a half staff employees. The trainers are veterans of successful democracy movements in five countries and are paid as contractors. CANVAS participates in some workshops financed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the United Nations Development Program, an international NGO called Humanity in Action, and Freedom House, an American group which gets its money from the U.S. government. But CANVAS prefers to give Washington a wide berth, in part due to Otpor’s experience. Like the entire opposition to Milosevic, Otpor took money from the U.S. government, and lied about it. When the real story came out after Milosevic fell, many Otpor members quit, feeling betrayed.)
Most of CANVAS’s work is with democracy activists from the middlingly repressive countries that make up the majority of the world’s dictatorships. All its successes have been; the Serbs have helped overthrow the low-hanging fruit of autocracy. Whatever one might say about Shevardnadze’s Georgia, it wasn’t North Korea. So last year I decided to watch Popovic and Djinovic work with activists from a country that would put their ideas to the severest test yet: Burma.
In 1962, a military coup led by Gen. Ne Win put an end to the democratic government that had ruled Burma since its independence 14 years earlier. In the intervening half-century there have only been a few brief moments when it was reasonable for the Burmese to hope for something better. Anti-government demonstrations erupted for months in 1988, but ended after soldiers killed thousands of protesters. Two years later, Burma held the first free elections since the coup. But when Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, won an overwhelming victory, the regime nullified the results.
Mass protest did not return until September 2007, when the government removed oil subsidies without warning and the price of some fuels rose by 500 percent. Buddhist monks protested the price hikes, only to be beaten by security forces. A monk in Rangoon named Ashin Kovida, a small, soft-spoken man of 24, was outraged. He sold his robes and used the money to make and photocopy a leaflet inviting the monks in Rangoon’s monasteries to march. On Sept. 19, about 400 monks did, joined by students in what became known — after one of the colors of the monks’ robes — as the Saffron Revolution.
Kovida, who now lives in exile in California, told me he was inspired by Bringing Down a Dictator, a documentary about the fall of Milosevic that had been subtitled in Burmese and circulated clandestinely in the country. He thought the government would not dare to shoot monks. He was wrong. Dozens of people were killed, and thousands of monks and nuns were arrested; some of them were handed sentences of more than 60 years. Burma’s opposition fell silent again; elections were held in November, 2010, but brought the country only token change.
There are still Burmese, however, willing to take risks for real democracy. Last year, 14 of them, most of them very young, gathered in a hotel conference room outside of Burma for a CANVAS workshop. They had been brought together by a veteran opposition activist who asked to be identified only by his nickname, K2. (The presence of a reporter and photographer was carefully negotiated to protect the participants’ safety: I could not identify the Burmese or mention the date or location of the workshop.)
This was new ground for the Serbs — CANVAS had worked with Burmese exiles, but these were people who lived inside the country. The Serbs worried about the fact that the students did not know each other. Mistrust could be fatal. Popovic once taught a group that included both opposition party youth and nongovernmental groups from Zimbabwe. They were all against the dictator, Robert Mugabe — but they also hated each other. “Endless war,” was how he characterized it. In a country like Burma, people feared those they did not know. The Serbs thought that this could be trouble.
And of course, Burma was not Ukraine. The less developed the democracy movement, the longer it takes for the gears to start turning. The countries whose activists had caught on the quickest, the Serbs said, were Georgia and Vietnam. The Burmese were more likely to respond like others from totalitarian countries had. “Belarus,” said Djinovic, shaking his head. “They were extremely tough to motivate — extremely passive. I couldn’t find the spark in their eyes.” And then there were the North Koreans: “They were great young students in a big hotel in Seoul,” Popovic told me. “We worked for two days and had no idea how the hell we were doing. People didn’t change the expression on their faces. They sat like monuments. It was awful.”
With Africans, Latin Americans, and Georgians, the CANVAS trainers were loose and lively — “Serb style,” Popovic called it. With people from Asia, the Middle East and most of Eastern Europe, they tried to be more formal. But while the style needed adaptation, the curriculum stayed the same. It was developed for the first two ongoing conflicts where they had worked, Zimbabwe and Belarus — places that differed in every possible way. Middle Eastern students, Djinovic said, sometimes argued that the strategies wouldn’t work in the Islamic world. But CANVAS’s only successes outside the former Soviet Union had come in Lebanon and the Maldives, both predominantly Muslim countries.
When Popovic asked the Burmese what they hoped to learn from the week, their answers focused on two issues: mobilizing people and overcoming fear. “We are afraid of what we are doing,” said a tall man. “We have the ‘there is nothing we can do’ syndrome. We have never tasted freedom.” One young woman pointed out that the government considers any meeting of more than five people to be illegal. “Nonviolent struggle is very risky,” she said.
The Burmese were exhibiting the most formidable challenge facing CANVAS in countries without a history of effective opposition: the passivity, fatalism, and fear of their citizens. CANVAS’s most useful lesson is how to dismantle this barrier. “At each workshop, someone comes to me and says, ‘Our case is totally different,’” Djinovic told the Burmese. There was nervous laughter. But the Burmese had a point: Anyone demented enough to roll a barrel with Than Shwe’s picture on it for the citizens of Rangoon to whack would be risking not a few hours in jail, but dozens of years. What could the Serbs possibly talk about?
A lot, it turned out. Some of the students said they had thought nonviolence meant passivity — morally superior, perhaps, but naive. Popovic framed the task in terms of Sun Tzu: “I want you to see nonviolent conflict as a form of warfare — the only difference is you don’t use arms,” he told them. This was new. He argued that whether nonviolence was moral or not was irrelevant: It was strategically necessary. Violence, of course, is every dictator’s home court. The Otpor founders also knew they could never win wide support with violence — every democracy struggle eventually needs to capture the middle class and at least neutralize the security forces.
Over and over again, Djinovic and Popovic hammered at another myth: that nonviolent struggle is synonymous with amassing large concentrations of people. The Serbs cautioned that marches and demonstrations should be saved for when you finally have majority support. Marches are risky — if your turnout is poor, the movement’s credibility is destroyed. And at marches, people get arrested, beaten, and shot. The authorities will try to provoke violence. One bad march can destroy a movement. Here was a point that had people nodding. “Any gathering in Rangoon is lunacy,” Djinovic said.
But if not marches, then what? The Serbs showed the participants excerpts from A Force More Powerful, a documentary series about nonviolent struggles: Gandhi’s Salt March, the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, and the lunch-counter sit-ins and bus boycotts of the American civil rights movement. Popovic pointed out the planning involved in these actions, and made the group list the tactics they saw: leaflets, banners, sit-ins, boycotts, picketing, music. “South Africa and Burma have a similarity: zero free media,” he said. “So how do you spread the message?”
“Songs,” said a man with a mustache. “Prayers and funerals,” said a middle-aged woman, the oldest in the group, a stern woman the others took to calling Auntie. Popovic pounced. “So what’s interesting about using funerals?” “It’s the only place people can meet,” a young man said.
“Funerals are a dilemma for your opponent,” said Popovic. In Zimbabwe, a gathering of five people was banned, but what if I have 5,000 people at a funeral? Whenever anyone related to the movement dies, they will gather and sing songs — and the police will not interfere! It’s a real problem to tear-gas a funeral.”
The next idea was one the Serbs had learned from the American academic Gene Sharp, the author of From Dictatorship to Democracy (a book originally published in 1993 in Thailand for Burmese dissidents), who has been called the Clausewitz of nonviolence. Popovic was first introduced to Sharp’s ideas in the spring of 2000 by Robert Helvey, a former U.S. Army colonel who had served as defense attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Burma in the 1980s before becoming disillusioned with armed struggle. When the Otpor members met Helvey, the movement already had 20,000 active members and a formidable reputation. But the group had hit a wall — the movement was growing, but its leaders couldn’t see how Otpor could turn that growth into the fall of Milosevic.
Helvey showed them how. He explained Sharp’s idea that a regime stays in power through the obedience of the people it governs. The goal of a democracy movement should be to persuade people to withdraw their obedience. A government is like a building held up by pillars, Sharp explained. Otpor needed to pull Milosevic’s pillars into the opposition camp.
In fact, Otpor was already doing well with two important Milosevic pillars. One was old people: They had always been Milosevic’s base of support, but the constant arrests of Otpor’s 16-year-olds — and the government’s hysterical accusations that the students were terrorists — were getting grandma angry. The other pillar was the police. From the beginning, Otpor had treated the police as allies-in-waiting. Otpor members delivered cookies and flowers to police stations (sometimes with a TV camera in tow). Instead of howling at police during confrontations, Otpor members would cheer them.
The Serbs recounted this to the Burmese, and added another step: the power graph, a Djinovic invention. He asked the students to list various groups with influence in society, and then chart each group’s level of loyalty to the regime over time. The idea was to see which groups had fluctuated — and what events in Burma’s recent history provoked the change. From that they could glean clues about whom it was most profitable to woo.
The students put themselves in the shoes of Burma’s police, workers, women, and other groups — what did they all want? The lists they compiled were predictable in their self-interest: Students wanted private schools, businesspeople wanted a reliable banking system, farmers wanted crop subsidies. What was interesting was what the lists didn’t include. “Where is democracy? Human rights?” Popovic said, pointing to the lists tacked to the wall. “People don’t give a shit about these things. Normally your politicians talk about things that don’t matter to people. Remember Gandhi’s Salt March? The issue was not ‘You Brits get out!’ — not officially. The issue was: ‘We want to make salt.’”
Approaching midweek, the Serbs were worried. “They don’t trust each other,” Djinovic told me over lunch. The Burmese held a meeting on Tuesday night in K2′s hotel room to air it all. They introduced themselves to each other, and set rules for the group. They figured out a common cover story to tell Burmese authorities. They ended up playing songs like “Dust in the Wind” on the guitar and singing until 3 a.m.
Things started to change the next day. Wednesday’s lesson was about replacing tactics of concentration — rallies, demonstrations, marches — with tactics of dispersal, which are lower cost, lower pressure, and less dangerous. The Serbs talked about Chile’s cacerolazos, or pot-banging sessions, which served to let people know that their neighbors, too, were against Pinochet. They explained the concept of dilemma actions, such as Otpor’s stunt with the oil barrel. “Do a small thing and if it is successful, you have the confidence to do another one and another one,” Popovic said. “You recruit people, train them, and keep them constantly active. You hit, proclaim victory — and get the hell out. If it is successful, people will come to you. Participating in small successes, you build self-confidence. Nonviolent struggle changes the way people think of themselves.”
The Burmese did not seem persuaded. “So we are all putting candles in our windows at a certain time,” said a young man with glasses. “They might not be able to arrest 10,000 people, but they will pick one poor guy and arrest his whole family — even his children.”
Popovic agreed. “Yes, you guys have problems even if the tactic is low-risk — if it is political,” he said. “But what if the issue is the government is incapable of supplying people with electrical power?”
When the Burmese divided into small groups to invent their own dilemma actions, the first group took this advice to heart. It had decided to tackle the issue of garbage, which the Rangoon government had stopped collecting. The members proposed starting with a group of 20 young people to do the work, providing gloves and masks, and trying to recruit others to join in. Then they would go to the city government, submit a petition signed by influential people, and tell them: It’s your problem.
“OK, good. You’re developing parallel institutions,” said Popovic. This was Adam Michnik’s strategy for Solidarity in Poland: Don’t tear down institutions — build your own. “You did this to remove bodies after Cyclone Nargis” — the 2008 disaster that killed more than 138,000 people in Burma — “when the government would not. Now, what if the municipality doesn’t care?”
“We’ll dump the garbage in front of the mayor,” said a tall man. Popovic laughed. “Or you could choose a lower-risk strategy — take pictures of the garbage and present them to authorities,” he said.
When the next group came to the front of the room, its members were smiling and, oddly, taking off their shoes. Their spokeswoman, a young woman in a pink shirt who was wriggling with excitement, proposed a “Barefoot Campaign,” to commemorate the monks of the Saffron Revolution, who do not wear shoes. The idea was to start with 100 young people, contacted by email and social networks. They would do something simple: go barefoot in public spaces. “We can start with the pagodas,” said Pink Shirt — no one wears shoes in a pagoda anyway. And people could walk through paint, Pink Shirt said. “We can easily measure success — if we see barefoot people and footprints everywhere.”
“When the authorities respond with arrests, how will you respond?” Auntie asked. The group had thought through this. “For safety, people can carry a pair of broken sandals in their pocket to show the police,” said a cherubic-faced young man. “Or you can say, ‘I’m getting ready to go running.’”
The tall man halted their excitement. “If the authorities see you leaving footprints, they will know and arrest you.”
“They won’t know who it was if we do it at night,” said the Cherub. “Let’s do it!” He pumped his fist in the air. Everyone laughed.
But the footprints were a problem — they could quite literally lead the police to their prey. Then a soft-spoken young woman in a gauze shirt spoke up. “There are lots of stray dogs and cats,” she said. “We can put a dish of paint in front of where they live so they will walk through it.” Cats and dogs as the foot soldiers of democracy! They looked at each other, awed by their own brilliance, and slapped hands all around.
Near the end of the week the group watched Burma VJ, a 2008 documentary by Danish director Anders Ostergaard about a group of clandestine Burmese video journalists, whose footage, smuggled out of the country, is often the only way the outside world knows what is happening in Burma. The film takes place during the Saffron Revolution; it is precious contraband in Burma, and most of the participants had seen it before. It is a document of hope and valor, a record of a few weeks many Burmese consider the high point of their lives. But after a week of CANVAS training, the Burmese were watching it with fresh eyes.
When the film ended, Djinovic walked to the front of the room. “So what did you think?” he said. The Cherub was wide-eyed. “This was not organized!” he said. Suddenly the Saffron Revolution looked very different. It was so brave, so inspiring — and so improvised, foolish, and irresponsible. “People were going into the streets spontaneously, asking for something that is not achievable,” Djinovic told them, perhaps not gentle enough as he razed their heroes. “Our advice,” he said slowly, “is that you think about nonviolent struggle totally differently than you have seen in this movie.”
Silence fell over the group.
“Then you know what you have to do,” he said.
CANVAS has worked with activists from 50 countries. It cannot point to 50 revolutions.
The most prosaic reason is that often the people it trains aren’t the ones in charge of a movement. Some groups, like Georgia’s and Ukraine’s dissidents, choose to model themselves on Otpor. In Iran, by contrast, though small groups of CANVAS trainees held successful actions, the leaders of the Green Revolution have not adopted Otpor’s tactics.
The more profound reason, however, is that context matters. A very closed society, the kind that most desperately needs a strong democracy movement, is the place least able to grow one. By the end of the Burma workshop, Popovic and Djinovic were content; the students had understood the lessons. But what they could do with them was not clear. On the workshop’s last day, I asked the members of the Barefoot Campaign group whether they would try to start one in Burma. The strategies were wonderful, valuable, fresh, they said — but better for someone else. “I am not sure it’s practical for me,” Pink Shirt said.
The Serbs argue that a country’s level of repression is not dispositive. Popovic told the Burmese that far more important than the government’s brutality is their own level of skill and commitment; a well-organized and committed democracy movement can gradually win enough freedom to work. “Political space is never granted. It is always conquered,” he said. It was easier to work in Serbia in 2000 than it had been in 1991 because the opposition had won important concessions over that time. “Serbia built those advantages,” he said. For example, it forced Milosevic to respect local election results in 1996 that left municipal television stations in opposition hands. But could this apply to Burma? Winning political space there could take decades and there was no guarantee that the country would even move in the right direction.
Burma, however, is the extreme. Most authoritarian countries are closer to Milosevic’s Serbia, or Mubarak’s Egypt: autocratic governments that do permit some opposition media and political activity. Algeria, Angola, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Nicaragua, Russia, and Venezuela, to name a few, follow this model. And though the Serbs cannot carry revolution in their suitcases, their strategies can greatly increase the chance that when there is a moment that shakes a dictatorship, the opposition will be able to take advantage of it.
The Egyptian example shows how. The April 6 movement knew about Otpor and adopted the fist as its logo even before Mohamed Adel went to Belgrade. The course he took there was the same one the Burmese took. Last April, Serbian newspapers carried a front page photo of a protest in Egypt, with demonstrators waving the April 6 flag, complete with a familiar fist logo. “The Otpor fist threatening Mubarak?” the headline read. As images of demonstrators in Tahrir Square hoisting their children onto Egyptian Army tanks filtered out to the rest of the world last week, Popovic recalled that on Adel’s power graph, the military loomed particularly large; it was crucial, he had realized, to pull out that pillar.
The Serbs never met Adel again, but their young Egyptian student kept emailing, occasionally pointing out mistakes in Arabic translations of CANVAS materials. He had gone home with copies of Bringing Down a Dictator subtitled in Arabic and continued to download books. He conducted miniature versions of the CANVAS workshop in Egypt, stressing unity, nonviolent discipline, the importance of clear goals, and keeping members engaged.
Just after the Jan. 25 protests began a 26-page pamphlet called “How to Protest Intelligently” — authored anonymously, but widely attributed to the April 6 group — began circulating in Cairo. It laid out the goals of the protests: taking over government buildings, winning over the police and Army, and protecting fellow protesters. It instructed people to carry roses, chant positive slogans, gather in their own neighborhoods, and persuade policemen to change sides by reminding them their own families could be among the protesters. It also gave practical advice on what demonstrators should wear and carry to protect themselves from tear gas and police batons. It suggested that they carry signs reading “Police and People Together Against the Regime.”
The protests were a model of unity, tolerance, and nonviolent discipline. The different groups put aside their individual flags and symbols to show only the Egyptian flag and to speak, as much as possible, with one voice. Protesters swept the square clean and protected shops, detaining looters and making them give back the stolen goods. Coptic Christians in Tahrir Square formed ranks to protect the Muslims while they prayed; when the Christians celebrated Mass, the Muslims formed a ring around them. Together they embraced soldiers and faced the police with roses. They sang songs and wore silly hats. It had an authenticity that was uniquely Egyptian, but it was also textbook CANVAS.
CANVAS has worked with dissidents from almost every country in the Middle East; the region contains one of CANVAS’s biggest successes, Lebanon, and one of its most disappointing failures, Iran. Popovic wonders whether Iran could turn out differently next time: What would happen if the Green Movement were to organize not around election fraud, but staged a Salt March instead, focusing on unemployment, low wages, and corruption? Iran is like Tunisia and Egypt were: a young, relatively well-educated population and a corrupt authoritarian government dependent on fear to keep people in line. “Governments that rely for decades on fear become very inflexible,” said Popovic. “The pillars of the regime support it out of fear. The moment the fear factor disappears and people are fearless with the police and hugging the military, you have lost your main pillars.” Hosni Mubarak no doubt would have ruefully observed the same thing.
In Burma, it is hard to imagine what can vanquish that fear — what can turn people from passive victims into daring heroes — unless people like Pink Shirt do it themselves. In the Middle East, however, the fear is already crumbling, and the heroism is infecting country after country. This is a huge advantage. But for dictatorship to fall throughout the region, the protesters must catch more from Egypt than audacity.
Tina Rosenberg is the author of the forthcoming Join the Club: How Peer Pressure Can Transform the World, from which parts of this article are adapted.
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Egyptian Activists’ Action Plan: Translated
By Alexis Madrigal
Egyptian activists have been circulating a kind of primer to Friday’s planned protest. We were sent the plan by two separate sources and have decided to publish excerpts here, with translations into English. Over Twitter, we connected with a translator, who translated the document with exceptional speed.
What follows are side-by-side translations of nine pages from the 26-page pamphlet. They were translated over the last hour and pasted up in Photoshop to give you an idea of what’s in the protest plan. While the plan itself contains specifics about what protesters might do, these excerpts show how one might equip oneself for clashes with riot police. Egyptian security forces have repeatedly beaten protesters as the level of violent repression of demonstrations has ratcheted upwards. For more context on the pamphlet itself, the Guardian UK ran a summary of it earlier today.
As you’ll read, the creators of the pamphlet explicitly asked that the pamphlet not be distributed on Twitter or Facebook, only through email or other contacts. We’re publishing this piece of ephemera because we think it’s a fascinating part of the historical record of what may end up becoming a very historic day for Egypt.
The pages included are 1, 2, 3, 4, 10, 12, 13, 22, and 26. You can click to (roughly) double the size of the images.
Update 8:21pm: People have asked why these particular pages were chosen. We had limited resources, so we knew we’d only be able to translate an excerpt. My guiding principles were to stay away from the small amount of tactical information in the pamphlet. Instead, we ran the more general pages. There is nothing in these pages that goes beyond standard advice and broad political statements. Broadly, we were trying to balance the historic nature of the document and protest with the safety of protesters. Publishing this excerpt was the compromise at which we arrived.
Update 8:48pm: Our translator requested that his name and Twitter handle be removed from the post. We complied.
Updated 8:57pm: Added context around why this information might be necessary for protesters.
Update 9:32am: A refinement of the document’s translation has been made. Meanwhile, the Internet remains shut off in Egypt as protesters across the country clash with security forces wielding large amounts of tear gas and powerful water cannons. While the Internet remains shut off, @Jan25Voices is tweeting updates from phone calls with Egyptians. Al Jazeera English is providing excellent coverage from the ground.
This article available online at:
Copyright © 2011 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All Rights Reserved.
Public Participation in Egypt: A Case Study in the Education Field
Radwa Manssy Kandil
A thesis submitted to the School of Continues Studies of Northwestern University partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts in Public Policy and Administration
Gail Schechter, Thesis Advisor/Primary Reader
Galya Ruffer, Secondary Reader
Table of Contents
Part 1: The Structure of the Egyptian Government and Its Sociopolitical Institutions 8
The 1952 Revolution and Nasser’s Regime 8
The Rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and Sadat’s Regime 13
Mubarak’s Regime and the Affirmation of Power 15
An Analysis and Conclusion 17
Part 2: The Current Mechanisms and Factors Inhibiting Public Participation in Egypt 23
The Current Political Constraints Inhibiting Public Participation 23
The Emergency and Anti-Terrorism Laws 24
Legislations Governing Political Parties 26
Legislations Governing NGOs 27
Legislations Governing Unions 29
Legislations Governing the Media 31
The Current Economic Factors Inhibiting Public Participation 33
An Analysis and Conclusion 35
Part 3: The Egyptian Education System and Public Participation 37
The History and Structure of the Egyptian Public Education System 39
The Impact of the Education Structure on Public Participation 42
The Impact of Free Education 43
The Impact of Centralization 45
The Impact of the National Political and Economic Environment 46
An Analysis and Conclusion 49
The Current Government Initiatives in the Education Field 51
An Analysis and Conclusion 53
Part 4: Conclusion 57
Caveats and Future Research 60
Appendix 1- Important Egyptian Constitutional Rights and Freedoms 63
Appendix 2: An Overview of the Egyptian Education System 64
Appendix 3: Ministry of Education Five Year National Strategic Plan (2007/8 – 2011/12) 65
In 2008, two students died at the age of 10 due to the corporal punishment techniques used in public schools in Egypt (Abdoun, 2008). The two incidents shocked the nation and shed light on the decaying education system in the country. Government and community neglect have bred an education system where the dropout rate is rampant, student achievement is low, and violence is the only utilized means of punishment.
Basic public education in Egypt is free and accessible to everyone under the constitution. However, for many years public education has suffered from inadequate funding and insufficiently trained teachers, resulting in devastating consequences for the country’s children.
There is a chronic shortage of school buildings, desks, and teaching materials. In fact, according to United Nations Children’s Fund (UNCIEF) report, more than half of the 25,000 schools that were operating in the country in 2003 were considered unfit for educational activity and were a threat to the physical well-being of children and teachers.
Teachers are underpaid and poorly qualified. The teaching techniques practiced at public schools have not been updated since the 1950s. The typical teaching practices at Egyptian public schools emphasize rote learning and memorization, rather than explanation, reasoning, and problem-solving. Corporal techniques have become more violent and aggressive, but more importantly they have become the norm in everyday school life.
Meanwhile, parents view schools as uninviting governmental buildings. They view education as a service that is provided by the state and they do not see a role for themselves in the functioning of the school. There are many constraints related to the sociopolitical environment of the country that inhibit parents from taking an active role in their children’s education process. An important element is that there are no legitimate channels that allow the parents to express their concerns and grievances at local or national levels. Consequently, the parents have become more accustomed to the deteriorating schooling system and infrastructure, and low quality education.
Certainly, in the political and social spheres, volunteerism and activism are limited in Egypt due to the various control mechanisms, imposed by the current regime, on activities of opposition parties, elections, non-governmental organizations, unions, and the press. Essentially, the current structure does not allow for a channel where the public can express its concerns and contribute to the decision-making process. This sociopolitical structure does not provide a space in society where people can come together to debate, associate and seek to influence their government and to change their own living reality. Ultimately, many citizens refrain from participating in the decision-making process altogether, which in turn, this thesis argues, results in the deterioration of public service, as witnessed in the education field.
The low voter turnout of the presidential election of September 2005 further illustrates how the public is disengaged from the government’s decisions and is unwilling to participate. In February 2005, President Hosni Mubarak modified the constitution to allow Egypt’s first multi-candidate presidential elections1, where he claimed 88% of the votes (Freedom House, 2007). The reforms were considered a very important milestone in the Egyptian democratization process. However, the elections were characterized by a voter turnout of less than 25% of registered voters. Since the repressive behavior of the government does not give any assurance that public opinion will be reflected in the decision-making process, many individuals did not believe that the reforms were a genuine attempt by the government to democratize the political environment. Thus, many Egyptians did not show to cast their ballots and refrained from participating.
Sadly, Egyptian citizens’ perception of the government and “reform” was proven to be correct in the September 2005 presidential election. The election was highly manipulated by the government. The government interfered in the voting process through vote buying and voter coercion. Independent monitors, prosecutors, and the Egyptian Judges’ Syndicate all blew the whistle on government electoral misconduct (“Not yet a democracy,” 2005).
However, it is important to recognize that the current regime – despite its repressive behavior – has expressed a real desire to encourage public participation and community involvement, particularly in the education field. Recently, the government has passed two important initiatives, Board of Trustees and National Standards, designed to provide a venue for parents, stakeholders, and community members to express their concerns and to influence the education process at the school level. The two initiatives are considered a breakthrough, considering that the government has had limited public participation in social and political sphere for more than 50 years. The government for the first time is acknowledging the importance of community participation as a significant parameter to improve the quality of education in Egypt.
The puzzle that this research attempts to resolve is that given the current hierarchal structure of the sociopolitical institutions in Egypt and the repressive behavior of the regime, why currently is the government fostering public participation in the education field?
In this respect, this study will examine the history, the developments, and the political values that shape the Egyptian government and the sociopolitical institutions of the country. This part of the study will also analyze how the military ethos and leadership shaped sociopolitical institutions that are unresponsive to the public’s demands and needs, contributing to the current public apathy. Then in turn, the study will delineate where in Egyptian legislation and the economic structure this indifference to popular will is institutionalized. The third part will attempt to understand the reasons behind the current government initiatives that aim at encouraging public participation in the public school education field. This part will also analyze the education system and problems to illustrate how the absence of public participation in the government decision-making process has had a dire impact on public services2 and impairs the country’s development. The paper will conclude by arguing that these impacts can be reversed, that a democratic political environment can in turn foster public participation at the local level and begin to achieve social parity in Egyptian society.
It is important to note that given Egypt’s Pharaonic past and Islamic heritage, a possible psychological readiness of Egyptians to accept authoritarian rule facilitates the persistence of authoritarianism in this country. This paper will not address the cultural factors that contribute to the lack of activism and volunteerism in the Egyptian society. Nonetheless, even though the liberalization of the sociopolitical institutions and environment in Egypt will not immediately prompt a culture of civic engagement, still, this paper argues, it will actively foster the proper environment that could lessen the effect of these cultural traits and begin to spur public participation.
THE STRUCTURE OF THE EGYPTIAN GOVERNMENT AND SOCIOPOLITICAL INSTITUTIONS
Egyptian political and institutional structure today is largely influenced by the political values of the 1952 Revolution. Studying the role of the 1952 Revolution in shaping the political context of Egypt today can provide insight into why volunteerism and activism is limited. It is also useful to study the historical development of Egypt’s politics to identify the key patterns and actors that shaped the political process and social institutions in modern Egypt. This chapter will pinpoint the crucial role that the military and its leadership played in shaping the sociopolitical sphere in Egypt through addressing social and political problems using a military mindset.
The purpose of this chapter is to delineate the historical development of Egyptian political values in order to explain its modern political, social, and economic structure. This chapter will also detail how the regime’s military campaign against Islamist militants led to the sacrifice of political liberties, diminishing public participation altogether.
The premise underlying this chapter is that the military ethos of the 1952 Revolution is still dominating the sociopolitical sphere and determining the political and social process of the government today, contributing to the current public apathy.
THE 1952 REVOLUTION AND NASSER’S REGIME
In 1952, Colonel Abd el Nasser and group of military leaders known as the Free Officers staged a coup d’état in Egypt, which abolished the monarchy. The following year, the group established the Republic of Egypt, installing Nasser as president and pursuing a political agenda that promoted Arab nationalism and socialism. The 1952 Revolution has drawn massive support by all citizens.
According to Ziad Munson’s political opportunities structure theory (2001), which focuses on the sociopolitical context from which social movement and group mobilization can occur, attributes the success of the 1952 Revolution to the sociopolitical problems in Egypt prior to 1952. Munson argues that domestic unrest over the British occupation3 and its domination of the Egyptian political sphere; the weakness of Egyptian political parties at the time; the defeat of Egypt in the 1948-1949 Arab-Israeli war; and the growing gap between rich and poor, constituted the main factors that have contributed to the success of the 1952 Revolution. Essentially, the Revolution promised to end feudalism, imperialism, and capitalist influence on government, meanwhile establishing social equality, democracy, and a strong army.
During the early years of the Republic, the government faced enormous pressures, externally and internally, that jeopardized its stability and its legitimacy. The first pressure was imposed by the British force, which supported the monarchy and planned to overturn the new regime. However, the internal weakness of the British government at the time prevented Britain from overthrowing the new Egyptian government.
The 1952 Revolution government was also threatened by the growing strength of the Muslim Brotherhood4, the Islamist faction that calls for the establishment of an Islamic state based on Islamic teachings and ideologies. The group was able to rise into power due to the sociopolitical problems that occurred prior to 1952. The Muslim Brotherhood increased its strength following the establishment of the Egyptian state and attracted mass public support. The Islamist group particularly gained the support of the best-educated groups in Egypt; the members of the organization were composed of engineers, doctors, and students5.
The group’s Islamic agenda and strong mass public support imposed a critical threat on Nasser’s and the new government’s socialist political agenda that promoted self-determination and Arab unity. In an attempt to respond to critical threats of national security, the government relied on the military to suppress the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood. In 1954, the Muslim Brotherhood was banned as a legitimate political party. Through the use of military force, the government crushed the Muslim Brotherhood by imprisoning many of its members and exiling all opposed to the new government.
Even though the new government employed the language of “social justice,” ironically military force and hierarchical structure was thought to be the only method that could bring the country to order and achieve “social” as opposed to “political” democracy. To maintain and ensure government domination over sociopolitical sphere, it established social institutions and a government structure that reflected a preference for order and an aversion to instability (Huntington, 1968; and Perlmutter 1977; Feaver, 2003). Essentially, the 1952 Revolution formed the new state and its social and political institutions on the fundamentals of institutional model theory of government, where public policy is authoritatively determined, implemented, and enforced by government’s institutions such as the parliament, courts, bureaucracies and so on (Dye, 1976; and UNDP Program on Governance in the Arab Region, 2008). This institutional structure was believed to maintain order and status quo by establishing hierarchical organizational that would not respond to change, corresponding to military organization.
The outcome of this military intervention and pro-socialist agenda led to the creation of a repressive police state that favored a centralized economic, social and welfare regime in Egypt. The army and its leadership were engaged in politics and viewed themselves indispensable to the regime and the state, restricting the participation of any organization or individuals. In the name of national security and prosperity, Nasser’s regime and the government of the 1952 Revolution established highly centralized and authoritarian bureaucracy in which all political parties and civil society organizations were banned. As a result, the Egyptian government, supported by the military, was independent of civilian will and rule and had isolated citizens from the decision-making process.
In spite of the repressive behavior of the state, many citizens continued to support the government for several reasons. First, Nasser was considered a national hero who had brought independence to Egypt from the British control. The nationalization of the Suez Canal6, which was under the control of the British government for more than 90 years, bolstered his image as a national hero even further. “Also, a Czech arms deal and a close ties with the Soviet Union, as contradicted the interest of the Western alliance, further contributed to Nasser’s reputation as a Pan-Arab hero who stood against the imperial domination of the Western powers” (Murat, 2007).
Second, the government was very successful in imposing the military ethos on the country and solidifying it in the mind of many Egyptians through controlling and using media outlets, most notably articles published in Al Nasr, Al Difa’ (Defense), and El Qwat el Maslaha (the armed forces) magazines, which represented the view of the military and its leadership. These magazines devoted many of its pages to political, economic, and social issues, usually from the standpoint of military discipline. Other articles had a special focus on the contribution of the military to the Egyptian society. For example, Al Nasr magazine has emphasized the role of the military in the economy with articles under the titles of “The Battle of Building and Construction” (NO. 492) and “The armed forces in battle of development” (NO. 497). These articles had given the opportunity to the military to promote its contribution in the infrastructure of the country and its role in protecting it. The establishment of military’s Center of Strategic Studies (1986), an armed forces think tank, has further legitimized the role of the Egyptian military in all spheres (Campbell, 2009).
Even after the overtly military aspect of the regime after 1952, however, military-supported authoritarians remained in power and the sociopolitical institutions of the country have continued to be rigid, centralized, and unresponsive to change. Through controlling and using media outlets in disseminating military ethos in the country, the regime was able to justify the absence of democratic control on the basis of national security. Consequently, this regime structure alienated the public from decision-making process on the political and social level. This era ended with the death of Nasser in 1971 and the occupation of Sinai Peninsula under the Israeli forces.
THE RISE OF THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD AND SADAT’S REGIME
After the death of Nasser, Anwar Sadat, senior military member of the Free Officers, assumed the presidency. Sadat sought a change in direction from Nasserist socialism. Essentially, Sadat’s presidency committed itself at achieving economic liberalization and regaining the Sinai Peninsula7 from Israeli. The new Egyptian president viewed the West, particularly the United States, as a key political alliance that was needed to support his economic liberalization policies (referred to as Infitah policies in Arabic literature) as well as to pressure Israel to return the Sinai Peninsula (Campbell, 2009; Niblock, 1993; and Hinnebusch, 2001a).
Under Sadat’s regime, Egypt experienced a very short era of political liberalization; according to Freedom House in 1976-1978 Egypt’s score in liberalization8 improved significantly, from “not free” to “partially free.” Sadat was able to contain the military rule and its leadership to its original function through eradicating the military leadership’s control over social and political institutions. This movement is referred to as “Corrective Revolution,” where Sadat legitimized the use of force to remove military leadership from the social and political sphere. He also removed all leadership that supported socialist and Nasserist ideology.
Terms such as a “modern state” and a “new” and “free” society, “state institutions,” “lasting constitution” and the “rule of law” were introduced to the Egyptian society (Campbell, 2009). However, the liberalization process was overshadowed by the rise of domestic unrest over Sadat’s peace agreement with Israel9 and the dire economic conditions of the country. Sadat’s strategy of peace with Israel, which he believed was necessary to improve Egypt’s economic conditions, was not welcomed by many Egyptians. The Egyptian community at that time viewed Israel as the aggressor and invader that had led to the loss of many of Egyptian lives. The Egyptian peace with Israel also strained the Egyptian-Arab relationship. Many countries in the Middle East viewed the treaty as a betrayal from the Egyptian side to the Palestinian self-determination cause. As a result, Egypt was isolated from its neighbors. The failure of Sadat’s economic liberalization-Infatah policies-which failed to attract foreign investments to Egypt, constituted yet another source of discontent.
The rise of domestic unrest and regional pressures created a favorable environment for the Muslim Brotherhood10 to resurface (Munson, 2001). The organization gained strength as a strong political force in the country in the late 1970s. Upon its return, the Muslim Brotherhood established a political party and carried out public campaigns, calling for the restoration of Islamic Law as the solution to the problems facing Egypt (Mutra, 2007).
The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood had once again imposed an internal threat to the government, jeopardizing the legitimacy of its policies. Still influenced by military ethos of the 1952 Revolution, Sadat reversed the liberalization process and tightened the political system in the late 1970s. He rearranged the sociopolitical institutions to reflect top-down hierarchy to maintain the government control and to maintain the status quo. The focus of political liberalization came to a complete stop after the assassination of Sadat by a member of the Islamist Jihad.
MUBARAK’S REGIME AND THE AFFIRMATION OF POWER
The Sadat era was cut short by his assassination in October 1981. Sadat was succeeded by Vice President Hosni Mubarak, formerly the air force chief of staff. Mubarak represented continuity in the line of ex-military officers holding executive office. Mubarak’s political agenda focused on promoting economic growth. However, at the beginning of its rule, Mubarak’s government faced enormous threat from the growing Islamic force inherited from Sadat’s regime.
By the late 1980s, the Muslim Brotherhood constituted the most powerful opposition in the country holding 25% of the parliament seat, 36 seats. As a result in 1987, other political parties sought an alliance by “Islamizing” their agendas. That year the Muslim Brotherhood united with the Labor and Liberal parties under the “Islamic Alliance” (Hafez and Wiktorowicz, 2004). Through its effective campaign and alliances, by the late 1980s, the Muslim Brotherhood was on its way to becoming an alternative to the state. The Muslim Brotherhood also used its influence to criticize Mubarak’s regime. The government in return revoked the Muslim Brotherhood status as a legitimate political party.
However, the government action did not isolate the Muslim Brotherhood; it has in return increased its influence and its threat on the government and the society. As a response to the government isolation, Islamic activist sought direct conformation with the government to overthrow it (Cleveland, 2004). By the 1990s, Islamic violence increased dramatically through bombing in public places, assassination, and ambushes. There were 741 incidents of Islamic violence between 1992 and 1997, compared with 143 incidents between 1970 and 1991 (Hafez and Wiktorowicz, 2004).
Accordingly, the government once again used its military mindset to respond to Islamic violence, imprisoning all opposing to the government and restricting the participation of any individual or organizations in the decision-making process. The military behavior of the state explains why the economic reforms liberalization in the 1990s did not result in political democratization. Mubarak’s presidency firmly established one-party and one-man rule, eliminating all opposition and ensuring that all sociopolitical institutions in the country were under the control of the government. In return, Mubarak’s government reconfirmed and legitimized the centralized sociopolitical institutions of the 1952 Revolution to ensure that the government had a monopoly over all decisions in the social and political sphere.
Following the attacks of September 11 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003, however, opposition to Mubarak’s regime intensified outcry for political change. The excessive power of the government and growing reliance on the United States for financial aid called the country’s sovereignty into question; not only by the Muslim Brotherhood, but other opposing organizations such as Kaifia- a liberal opposition group calling for the removal of Mubarak from office.
Opposition forces composed of all factions – liberal, leftist, and the Muslim Brotherhood – demanded multi-candidate presidential elections, the suspension of emergency law, full judicial supervision of elections, and the suspension of limitations on the creation of political parties, and an end to government involvement with the activities of nongovernmental organizations.
In 2005, constitutional reforms allowed for the first multi-candidate presidential election, where Mubarak claimed 88% of the total votes. During the same year, Muslim Brotherhood, whose candidates ran independently with no party affiliation, claimed approximately 22% of parliament seats. However, the opposition failed to carry out the rest of their demands due to their internal and organizational weakness (Murta, 2007). More importantly, the oppositions were not able to advance their agenda due to the highly constricted political and economic environment of the country that limits all efforts that aim to change the status quo and the government.
THE EGYPTIAN GOVERNMENT’S POLITICAL VALUES AND PUBLIC PARTICIPATION: AN ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSION
Today, the persistence of authoritarianism in Egypt constitutes the main factor behind the absence of public participation. There are two general views presented by scholars on the persistence of authoritarianism in the Middle East. The first view, presented by Farhad Kazemi and Augustus Norton, attributes authoritarianism to state behavior. The second view, presented by Oliver Schlumberger, Frederic Volpi and Steven Fish, suggests that it is the hierarchically shaped sociopolitical structure11 and sociopolitical patterns of interaction that promote authoritarianism in the Middle East region. In the case of Egypt, the two views collapse together, since the military ethos and its leadership is governing the state.
The preview of Egyptian history showcases the relevance of both claims. Since the 1952 Revolution, the government has been guided by military principles. By using the military mindset, the government has isolated not only the Muslim Brotherhood, but all movements or individuals seeking the establishment of grassroots movement at the political and social levels. Therefore, as argued by Norton and Kazemi (1999), the government behavior since the 1950s has contributed to the persistence of authoritarianism in Egypt. Essentially, the military-inspired Egyptian government since the 1950s has successfully secured and protected its control over the government by adopting several practices and legislation that are likely to sacrifice civil and political freedoms in the name of national security. Certainly, the behavior of the Egyptian government to maintain its control over the government and the reign using military ethos constitutes the main factor behind the absence of public participation and the persistence of authoritarianism in Egypt.
Furthermore, in the 1950s the government created highly centralized sociopolitical institutions that reflect a preference for order and an aversion to instability. This institutional structure is believed to maintain order and the status quo by establishing hierarchical organizations that would not respond to change, resembling the military institution. This factor confirms the argument by Schlumberger, Volpi, and Fish that the hierarchical shaped sociopolitical institutions tend to make the sociopolitical environment an unsuitable place for a truly democratic civil society to develop. Therefore, the Egyptian military inspired sociopolitical structure constitutes yet another main factor that limits public participation and contributes to the persistence of authoritarianism in the country12.
Unfortunately, the absence of public participation and the persistence of authoritarianism have led to a growing Islamic violence and deteriorating public services. This military mindset of the government that legitimizes the use of force and the repression of civil liberties adopted by the Egyptian government since the 1950s has bred ground for Islamic violence to grow. In support of this view are Muhammed M. Hafez and Quintan Wiktorowicz (2004), who call attention to the political opportunity structure in relation to regime repression. In their analysis, Hafez and Wiktorowicz point out that the growing Islamic violence coincides with the political de-liberalization of the 1990s, evident in the high number of causalities and injuries resulting from Islamic violence during this period. The study compared the casualties of 1,442 deaths and 1,773 injuries from 1992 to 1997 to the casualty rate of 120 deaths that took place from 1970 to 1981. Accordingly, the study argues that the de-liberalization of the 1990s is likely to account for the growth of Islamic activism through bombings, assassinations and ambushes that took place in the same period. This study correctly concludes that the existing constraints within Egyptian politics, the limited accessibility of the political system, and the high degree of state repression are key factors in the increase of Islamic violence.
Moreover, the current military-inspired sociopolitical institutions have led to the deterioration of public services in the country, as this centralized and controlled sociopolitical structure, which has weakened local governments, bred corruption in all levels of government, and contributed to the current public apathy.
Local governments in Egypt have virtually no power in making any decisions regarding their activities. All policies and budgets are determined centrally with no adequate participation from local government officials, non-governmental institutions, or the public, thereby allowing for greater corruption, increasing the scope of arbitrary central government decisions, decreasing bureaucratic performance, and developing a high level of uncertainty.
This structure limits public participation, and it does not give any assurance that the public opinion would be reflected in the decision-making process (UNDP Egypt Human Development Report, 2004). As a result, the public perceives the government to be distant and unaccountable. Many individuals in Egypt distrust both the process and the outcomes of decision-making. Ultimately, many citizens refrain from participating in the decision-making process altogether.
Furthermore, Egypt’s government system, in line with military ethos, has continuously commanded the loyalty of its citizens “to enact policies governing the whole society and to monopolize the legitimate use of force that encourages individuals and groups to work for enactment of their preference into policy” (Dye, 1976). The concept of citizens’ loyalty to the state and centralized decision-making has played an evident role in deterring the public from taking an active role in the decision-making process in any spectrum.
The notion of commanding citizens’ loyalty and legitimizing the use of power to implement national policies has alienated the middle class from participating in public life. Many intellectual elites and middle-class citizens have preferred not to participate in public life to spare themselves the risk of being imprisoned or ridiculed by the government (Abdel Halim, 2005).
Since there are no measures at the local level that ensure voter accountability and limit the elected official’s violation of public property, corruption has become widespread in Egypt at all levels of government. Egypt ranks 105th out of 179 most corrupt governments in the world according to the Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index for 2007. Bribery of low-level civil servants is part of daily life, and there are allegations of significant corruption among high-level officials (Index of Economic Freedom, 2009). In 2006, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) noted the need to address corruption so that good governance values could be fostered and the public could once again trust the government and participate actively in its community.
Therefore, it is important to note that the greatest obstacles that hinder greater civic engagement in Egypt are the authoritarian behavior of the state and highly centralized government structure13.
The absence of public participation has had a dire impact on public services in Egypt, particularly in the education system. Currently, the public school system in Egypt suffers from poor overall quality. Its infrastructure is deteriorating; corporal punishment is widespread; the dropout rate is increasing; and unemployment among school graduates is pervasive
The education system, its history and its current problems, is an important case that illustrates how the military mindset of the 1952 Revolution shaped the nature of social institutions in Egypt. Public school education deteriorated under militaristic rule, as over time the education system had widened the inequality gap and restrains household income. The current education system is depriving the poor and middle class of quality education, which in turn limits their employment opportunity. The wealthy, of course, are in a better position, as they can afford private schooling for quality education. These impacts will be discussed in part three of this paper.
THE CURRENT MECHANISMS AND FACTORS INHIBITING PUBLIC PARTICIPATION IN EGYPT
Today, the Egyptian sociopolitical sphere refers to an arena where repression, rather than democratization, takes place. Hosni Mubarak’s one-man, one-party rule has been dominating the political atmosphere since 1981. The regime is continuously suppressing all opposition either through the use of force or through undermining any prospects for democratic political practices in Egypt. Due to the regime’s authoritarian behavior, public participation has been completely suppressed. Certainly, the current Egyptian sociopolitical environment is a great barrier to any organization or individual seeking to promote a grassroots reform process.
This section will delineate the various political and economic factors that inhibit civic engagement in Egypt14. This section will also illustrate how the legislative framework, shaped by government imposed repression, constitute the main factor limiting public participation in Egypt today. Understanding the Egyptian legislative framework and the economic situation of the country will help this study identify the areas of intervention and policy measures that are required to spur public participation.
THE CURRENT POLITICAL CONSTRAINTS INHIBITING PUBLIC PARTICIPATION
Mubarak’s regime is continuously legitimizing various control measures on activities of political parties, elections, civil society organizations and the press. No organization is free of government surveillance. This section will outline the legislation that are currently in place and is limiting the ability of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), political parties, unions, and the media from functioning effectively in mobilizing the public, raising public awareness on important public matters, and seeking the establishment of a grassroots movement in any public issue.
The Emergency and Anti-Terrorism Laws
The Emergency and Anti-Terrorism Laws constitute the greatest obstacles to public participation in Egypt. Both laws preclude many basic human rights provided by the constitution; their provisions allow for citizens to be arrested without charges, restrict freedom of assembly and speech, allow unwarranted home search, and disregard privacy and security of communication.
Except for a period of five months under Anwar Sadat’s rule, Egypt has been under a “state of emergency” since 1967, which in practice has led to indefinite detentions without trial and the banning of demonstrations. The Emergency Law gives the executive branch the power to suspend all judicial and constitutional orders to protect the country from any national security threats (UNDP Program on Governance in the Arab Region, 2008).
Mubarak’s regime extended the Emergency Law to 2010. The government requested the extension of the law based on the need to confront the terrorist danger that threatens Egypt’s security (UNDP Program on Governance in the Arab Region, 2008). In reality, however, the Emergency Law enables Mubarak’s regime to exercise firm control over Egyptian politics. Therefore, the regime extended the Emergency Law as a response to the prominent representation of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 2005 parliamentary elections (Freedom House, 2006).
Mubarak’s regime used the Emergency Law to suppress the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the1995 parliamentary elections. The regime conducted a series of arrests, targeting representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood, aiming to neutralize the opposition. As a consequence, days before the elections, fifty-four members of the Muslim Brotherhood were sentenced to prison. The 1995 parliamentary elections resulted in the ruling party’s victory that won 94% of the seats (Hafez & Wiktorowicz, 2004).
More recently, the regime used the Emergency Law during the 2005 parliamentary elections, where the government targeted many Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers by security forces and prevented them from casting their ballots in some opposition strongholds (Freedom House, 2006). In the aftermath of the parliamentary elections, the Muslim Brotherhood, whose candidates ran independently, managed to win 22% of parliament seats, while the ruling party took the lead by winning 78% of the parliament seats.
In 2007, Mubarak’s regime was able to amend many elements of the Emergency Law in the constitution (UNDP Program on Governance in the Arab Region, 2008). The amendments are referred to as the Anti-Terrorism Law. The Anti-Terrorism Law gives the government the authority to preclude three constitutional rights in order to ensure the government’s effort at combating domestic terrorism: Article 44 (protection of home from unwarranted searches), Article 45 (privacy and security of communications), and Article 41 (freedom from arbitrary arrest or detention) (Denis & Kimberly, 2007; Egyptian Constitution, 2007). The Anti-Terrorism Law represents the “most serious undermining of human rights safeguards in Egypt, since the state of emergency was re-imposed in 1981” (Amnesty International Report, 2007).
Even though Egypt does not have a recognized Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the rights of individuals and other minorities are enshrined and granted in the Egyptian Constitution (See Appendix 1 for more details on the Egyptian Constitution Rights and Freedoms). All these rights, however, are effectively suspended under the Anti-Terrorism and Emergency Laws.
Legislation Governing Political Parties
Theoretically, Egypt is a multiparty political system (Egyptian Constitution 2007, Article 5). In practice, Egypt is one party system. The ruling party, National Democratic Party (NDP), dominates the parliament and the executive branch. NDP hinders the efforts of other parties to take control (Abdel Halim, 2005).
There are approximately 24 parties legally registered, while several others have had their registration applications consistently denied, particularly the underground Muslim Brotherhood party15 (Denis & Kimberly, 2007).
The legislative framework isolates political parties from any social grassroots movements. The Egyptian law prohibits the establishment of political parties grounded in social and professional movements. Therefore, the existing legislative framework weakens political parties’ ability to identify with citizens, by removing partisan politics away from unions, grassroots organizations, and other associations. Associating with social grassroots movement is a prerequisite for creating a strong political environment and strong multiparty structure. Through this interaction the public can move its concerns to the political arena and ensure that its demands are reflected in the decision-making process.
“Many of the major political parties in democracies or emerging democracies were begotten by syndicates, the most well known examples of which are the British Labor Party or Poland’s Solidarity movement” (UNDP Egypt Human Development Report, 2008). Thus, the law misrepresents the proper role of political parties and exposes the whole democratization process to tensions by triggering official barriers to political parties’ activities.
Legislation Governing NGOs
Egypt has a vibrant civil society consisting of 16,000 registered not-for-profit and international organizations (Abdel Halim, 2005). Nevertheless, NGOs in Egypt are limited in terms of their activities and their scope. Since 1950s, the government has frozen civil societies’ activities on the basis of national security.
“Historically, the 1952 Revolution alienated both the private and the civil society organization sector, openly or implicitly by claiming to represent all of society, provide universal welfare services and subsidies on most goods and services, free education, as well as employment for all graduates, in return for national allegiance and support” (UNDP Egypt Human Development Report, 2008).
Today, present legislation still places barriers on the ability of some NGOs to freely associate and act in consequence. The NGO law grants the state the right to expose civil right organizations to criminal penalties, including imprisonment, fines, and the involuntary dissolution of the association, in the case of any direct violation.
Many activities that are prohibited under the law are not clearly defined; it frequently uses terminology that is open to interpretation. This includes terms such as “the public order,” “public ethics,” “decorum,” and “threat to national unity” (UNDP Egypt Human Development Report; and UNDP Program on Governance in the Arab Region, 2008). This leaves the government the discretion to determine whether a violation has occurred or not.
The authorities have used this undefined terminology in the law to politicize human rights and the rights of minorities, and it has also arrested activists advocating for social justice. For example, three female activists were arrested in May 2006 during a peaceful demonstration for greater political participation of women. By equating women’s rights issues with political activities, government authorities have justified canceling NGO awareness raising activities such as a 2006 multi-NGO Women’s Day Celebration (UNDP Program on Governance in the Arab Region, 2008).
Human rights organizations are a primary target of Mubarak’s regime. The government confronts human rights organization because such organizations through their activities expose the regime’s human rights violations. In its effort to maintain legitimacy, the Egyptian government labels human rights organizations as threats to national security that aim to tarnish the country’s international reputation. Since the mid-1980s, Mubarak’s regime has accused such organizations and human rights activists of treason for opening the gate to foreigners to intervene with Egypt’s affairs. In the name of protecting Egypt’s national interest and sovereignty, the government has imprisoned many human rights advocates. Because the NGO Law does not define the activities that constitute a threat to national security, the authority could imprison any human right advocates.
Other provisions of the NGO Law give excessive discretion to the executive branch over key administrative and financial decisions that impede civil society organizations. The government can directly deny the registration of some organizations on the basis of national security (UNDP Egypt Human Development Report, 2008; and UNDP Program on Governance in the Arab Region, 2008). The executive branch has exclusive authority to control civil society organizations’ management of finance. For example, permission from the government is required for the receipt of all funding from foreign and domestic sources (UNDP Egypt Human Development Report, 2008; and UNDP Program on Governance in the Arab Region, 2008).
The excessive power of the regulatory authority, the ambiguities in the law, and Emergency law and Anti-Terrorist law are impeding “the civil society organizations’ ability to conduct their affairs successfully, earn credibility, participate successfully in networking, and scaling up activities” (UNDP Egypt Human Development Report, 2008; and UNDP Program on Governance in the Arab Region, 2008). These non-democratic practices limit the ability of civil society organizations to be effective, and discourage citizen participation altogether.
Legislation Governing Unions
There are two types of unions in Egypt. The first type of union is comprised of members that are obligated to join as a condition for practicing a certain profession. An example for that is the Physicians Association, which includes all licensed doctors. The second type of syndicate is comprised of members recruited on a voluntary basis and membership is not a prerequisite for practicing the profession such as Syndicate of Journalists (UNDP Egypt Human Development Report, 2008).
Membership in Egyptian unions is low and the participation of members in the affairs of their unions is limited (UNDP Egypt Human Development Report, 2008). The weakness of unions in Egypt is a result of several factors, the first of which is low citizen participation, since most Egyptian unions are not founded on voluntary or selective membership. Second, the structure of unions in Egypt creates a number of problems, as the Egyptian government assigns to unions certain functions such as licenses to practice a certain profession, as well as the supervisory role as regards these professions. Therefore, Egyptian unions work on implementing state-dictated policies, rather than promoting professions and members’ interests. Third, the legal frameworks governing these groups are very strict, impeding unions’ ability to promote their members’ interest. By the virtue of the law, the government oversees all unions’ activities. The state supervision goes as far as the delegation to appoint cadres, or leadership of unions16.
The existing legislative framework limits the channels by which members can move their concerns from unions to political parties. Internationally, most unions’ members transfer their concerns from the civil to the political arena by cooperating with political parties. However, Egyptian law prohibits unions from establishing any ties with political parties (Law 40 of 1977). Even though unions have a duty to interact with political parties, if this stems from the need to defend professional or group interests.
Based on the restriction laws, public party gatherings and marches are prohibited. During the 1995 election campaign from November 1995 to December 1996, 1,392 Islamist campaign workers and supporters were arrested by Mubarak’s regime for violating the restriction order (Dillman, 2000).
Technically, the law gives workers the right to strike, but only if approved by the leadership of the executive branch. Thus, workers cannot strike without the consent of the government. In spite of the law, the independent Egyptian newspaper el Masry el youm has reported an estimate of 222 workers strikes during 2006 alone, all of which were illegal.
The workers’ demands are increasing everyday in Egypt. Unfortunately, the current legislative framework does not provide the necessary space for the public in general to express their concerns. Public demands are inevitable; the question arises as to whether the state has the political will or the inclination to create a model for unions that would allow the recognition that these associations are there to express group interests.
Legislation Governing the Media
Egypt’s media is very diverse. Even though privately owned media outlets have been increasing in Egypt during the last decade, the government still owns and controls the largest written, audio, and visual media. The editors of the three daily leading newspapers are appointed by Mubarak. The government also regulates the privately owned media outlets. Freedom of speech is safeguarded in Egyptian constitution and its legal framework. Despite the constitutional guarantee, however, restrictive media laws are in place and an assortment of press offenses are criminalized.
Laws and practices that regulate the exercise of freedom of association, freedom of expression and freedom to obtain information represent constraints on media. Press legislation passed in 2006 enumerated thirty-five media offenses punishable by prison sentences (Denis & Kimberly, 2007). Media personnel can be under risk of prison if they insult public figures or bodies, spread rumors aimed at instigating terror, and harm the public welfare (UNDP Egypt Human Development Report, 2008). However, these laws are not clearly defined and they are open to some interpretation.
The executive branch uses the law’s vague terminology to suppress voices critical of government. For example, Ibrahim Eissa, editor of the largest opposition newspaper Daily el Destour was arrested earlier this year for allegedly spreading “dangerous” rumors about the health of President Mubarak. The authority saw this particular article as an opportunity to arrest Eissa, who have been very critical of the government behavior in recent years. He was arrested on charges of broadcasting false stories, disrupting the peace, and harming the national security. Because the media law does not define the activities that constitute a threat to national security, the authority could arrest Eissa or any other journalist.
Moreover, journalists can not access government documents, as currently there is no Right of Information Law in Egypt. Therefore, the government controls the dissemination of information, limiting journalist as well as civil society organizations’ ability to monitor government’s activities (UNDP Egypt Human Development Report, 2008).
Written media and the internet enjoy relatively larger freedom in speech in comparison to other media17, as state-owned, semi-official, and opposition periodicals are distributed daily, weekly, and monthly. The effect of print media is, of course, limited by the fact that a large sector of Egyptian society is illiterate, 23% of the population, which constitutes 17 million (Abdel Halim, 2005; and Stockholm Challenge, 2008). This in turn reflects on citizen political awareness, and hinders the awareness of the importance of political participation. The affect of the internet is limited as well as the number of households owning a computer and have access to the internet is only 6 million- the population of Egypt is 72 million (Stockholm Challenge, 2008).
THE CURRENT ECONOMIC FACTORS INHIBITING PUBLIC PARTICIPATION
Egypt’s economy during the 1950s and 1960s was guided by socialist principles, where the government took the responsibility for providing economic and social relief for all citizens. Many economists blame this period of time for Egypt’s economic deterioration. Egypt’s economy improved dramatically in the 1990s as a result of several arrangements with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the move by several, mainly Arab, countries to relieve a large portion of its debts (National Encyclopedia, 2008). There have been massive macroeconomic reforms in 1980s and 1990s, which have transformed the government’s economic and social structure and have helped the private sectors in achieving a higher share in the economy.
The private sector in Egypt enjoys more public participation rights than any other social group, as the government believes that the private sector would generate the resources needed to continue universal welfare benefits (UNDP Egypt Human Development Report, 2009). “This sector was given new rights to organize and lobby to advance its own interests (chambers of commerce, businessmen’s clubs). This opening up provided more space for non-state actors and allowed an increasing number of groups to voice their demands” (UNDP Egypt Human Development Report, 2008).
Unfortunately, the government was unsuccessful in adopting new social policies that would match the liberalization of the economic regime. To achieve economic progress, the government has made strides in instituting liberal, market-oriented economic reforms, but laws did not change to allow explicitly more freedoms for the public and civil society institutions (UNDP Egypt Human Development Report, 2008). Thus, economic reform is increasingly perceived by the middle and lower ranks of the vast salaried state bureaucracy, the working class, and labor unions to work against their interests, since their access to better wages and upward mobility was not enhanced (UNDP Egypt Human Development Report, 2008).
However, Egypt’s policies and political institutions will not be acceptable to its citizen as the economy continue to grow. As individuals enjoy higher income due to economic growth, citizens’ demand accompanying an increased standard of living will also increase. Individual demands for a better infrastructure and personal freedom will ultimately force the government toward opening its social and political institutions (Friedman, 2007).
The fact that we have not seen Egypt opening up its political and social institutions does not imply that the relationship between rising income and personal freedom does not exist. The reason that Egypt has not yet reached this stage is because the per capita income in Egypt has grown from a very low level. Despite the overall growth in the country’s GDP of 7.1%, poverty and illiteracy in Egypt limits public participation to a greater extended (CIA the World Factbook, 2007).
Egypt’s standard of living today is still only a small fraction of that in highly developed Western democracies (Friedman, 2007). Illiteracy is still a major problem; 25% of the population is illiterate, despite the government and international organizations efforts in the past two decades to reduce it (Stockholm Challenge, 2008). The poor and the illiterate are disadvantaged in securing equitable representation in the decision-making process.
MEASURES AND FACTORS INHIBITING PUBLIC PARTICIPATION IN EGYPT: CONCLUSION
Egypt’s political environment in itself is a great barrier to any organization or individual seeking to promote a grassroots reform process. Preconditions for political participation are not provided, and if they are provided, they are not exercised by Egyptian citizens. As discussed above, the legislative framework places various control measures on activities of political parties, elections, civil society organizations, and the press that inhibits public participation at the political level.
Furthermore, this legislative framework does not allow public participation in governmental policies and initiatives at the social level, allowing for greater corruption, increase of the scope of arbitrary central government decisions, decrease of bureaucratic performance, and a high level of uncertainty. Therefore, the public in Egypt distrusts the process and the outcome of the decision-making process, which, in turn, contributes to the diminishing public desire to participate in the process altogether.
National programs and policies must therefore be the outcome of a more comprehensive consultative process between the government and the public. In this respect, plans to liberalize the sociopolitical institutions of the country are needed to promote a participatory approach. Certainly, the liberalization of the political environment in Egypt will encourage civic participation and produce engaged citizenry by allowing the public to express their demands and orientations through a legitimate and clearly identified medium.
Poverty and illiteracy can be seen as a set of interrelated conditions that hinder the capacity of citizens to engage in the decision-making process in a sustainable and effective manner. However, with the economic growth that Egypt is currently experiencing, these two variables should be lessened, increasing the citizenry’s desire to engage in public affairs and control their political environment. Therefore, it is important to note that the greatest obstacles that hinder greater civic engagement in Egypt are in the military-inspired sociopolitical institutions and the repressive behavior of the state.
THE EGYPTIAN EDUCATION SYSTEM AND PUBLIC PARTICIPATION
Public participation in Egypt is limited due to systemic, government-sponsored crackdowns on civic engagement, discussed in part two of this paper. The lack of interaction between the community as a whole and the state has contributed to the deterioration of many public services in Egypt. There are no legitimate channels that allow the public to express its concerns and demands at the national level or local level. The failure of the public education system in Egypt is a case in point.
The Egyptian public education system is currently producing a high number of dropouts and graduating low-achieving students. It is failing to produce the required human capital that is needed to spur and sustain economic growth. This failure is hindering the overall development of the country (EL Mattrawy, 2006).
The problem of the public education system in Egypt is institutional in nature. Public education, similar to other public services’ structures, suffers from the same ailments as the rigid, inflated, centralized and inefficient state-bureaucratic apparatus (Hussine, 2008). The education structure gives absolute discretion to governmental agencies and institutions in determining all financial or managerial decisions without any consultation and involvement of the community, or intended beneficiaries (Hussine, 2008).
Meanwhile, the lack of sufficient resources has impeded the government’s ability to provide the communities with adequate educational delivery, fully equipped school buildings, teachers, and instructional materials. As a result, public education has systematically failed to address teachers, parents and students needs, and failed to respond to local communities’ demands for development (Hussine, 2008).
Various experiences in similar countries have indicated that community participation and the management of educational projects and activities have helped in addressing the barriers that impede the process of achieving high-quality education, even where there is poverty and undemocratic rule. Balochistan, a poor, rural, and underdeveloped province in Pakistan, for example, was able to improve the quality and access to public education in 1998 through an initiative, known as Community Support Program (CSP), which strengthened community support for the educational process. This program aimed at generating a sense of ownership in teachers and community members through establishing an ongoing dialogue on school function, process, and desired outcomes. The process focused on the interaction of teachers and community members through weekly and monthly meetings. All parents participated with government officials in selecting their local school teachers. Community members and all those affected by the educational process were free to associate with NGOs and unions to advance their concerns to the political arena. The program was able to achieve a 159% enrollment rate18 for girls within a period of eight years. An important element for the success of this program was the commitment to public participation and community involvement (Anzar, 1999).
Similarly, the Egyptian government has passed two important initiatives in the education field aiming at increasing the public involvement, as an important factor to improve the quality of education in Egypt. However, due to the authoritarian behavior of the government and the restricted legislative framework that inhibits public participation in Egypt discussed in the two previous sections, this paper is questioning the effectiveness and the validity of these two initiatives. Therefore, this section will attempt to understand the reasons and the motives behind the current government initiatives that aim at encouraging public participation in the Education field. This part will also analyze the education system and problems to illustrate how the absence of public participation in the government decision-making process has had a dire impact of public services and impairs the country’s development
This chapter will: (1) explain the history and the structure of the public education system in Egypt; (2) discuss how this structure is limiting public participation, which in turn contribute to the poor quality of education; and (3) evaluate the current government’s initiatives that aim at improving the education system in Egypt through community involvement.
THE HISTORY AND STRUCUTRE OF THE EGYPTIAN PUBLIC EDUCATION SYSTEM
The Egyptian education system and its institutional framework have changed over time reflecting different priorities in terms of quality and accessibility. Under the monarchy, which ruled Egypt for three centuries, the education system was developed to value the quality of education over its accessibility. Therefore, education was only accessible to specific groups – foreigners, members of the upper class and elites – in order to effectively allocate the scarce resources available to generate high quality educational achievements (EL Mattrawy, 2006).
The 1952 military coup d’état, which overturned the monarchy and established the Republic of Egypt, inherited an education system that was limited in its scope in term of accessibility. During the time of 1952 Revolution, nearly 75% of the population over 10 years of age was illiterate, 90% of whom were females (Metz, 1990). The new government prioritized the goal of eradicating illiteracy by expanding education opportunities to all classes. Unfortunately, the rapid expansion of access to education was accomplished at the expense of education quality (Bridsall and O’Connell, 1999).
The education reforms and policies that were undertaken during the 1952 Revolution form the foundation of the education system today in Egypt. Certainly, many of the current problems in the education system date back to the policies developed and implemented under the 1952 Revolution government, which aimed to achieve three goals: social equality, citizens’ loyalty to the new government, and national security.
For the new regime, education was seen as a sign of equality and justice that the 1952 Revolution had promised to accomplish for everyone (Sayed 2006; and Metz, 1990). To realize social equality, the new government had to expand education opportunities for all citizens by financially sponsoring pre-school to universities and higher education levels, without considering the limited resources available to the country at that time.
Furthermore, the new government used free education to expand the middle class, the main supporters of the Revolution. At the very beginning, the 1952 government faced enormous international and internal pressures that jeopardized its stability and its legitimacy. Internationally, several western countries led by the British government, which had many economic interests in Egypt at that time (specifically controlling the Suez Canal) had planned to support the monarchy and overturn the new government (Metz, 1990). However, the internal weakness of the British government at that time inhibited Britain from overthrowing the new government. Internally and soon after the Revolution, several other populist revolutions erupted and opposition groups position strengthened, particularly the rise of Muslim Brotherhood has weakened the government position (Metz, 1990), discussed in part one of this paper.
Free education was believed to be the solution for reinforcing national identity and the 1952 Revolution ideology (Sayed, 2006). By expanding educational opportunities to those groups that were denied access to it under the monarchy, the new government believed that it would command citizen loyalty to the new regime and ensure its legitimacy (Sayed, 2006).
However, this argument does not explain why the government chose to adopt a highly centralized education structure as a solution. The institutional structure of the education system can further be explained by referring to Graham Allison’s organizational behavior model. The military government of 1952 felt strong pressures to stabilize its regime. To respond to such a critical issue as an act that threatens its national security, the government of 1952 relied on its militaristic organizational capacity and standard operating procedures [SOPs] (Allison, 1999). Certainly, the state of Egypt, following the success of 1952 Revolution, has approached many social issues such as education with a military mindset to protect its reign.
The reliance of the 1952 government on its organizational capacity and SOPs was evident in the adaptation of a highly centralized and highly controlled public education structure resembling the military institution. This education structure was believed to achieve national security by limiting the ability of any group or individual aiming at changing the status quo. This founding concept explains why the education system does not give community members, parents, teachers, or students a voice to influence the education process and its outcomes.
Essentially, the institutional framework of the education system gives the Ministry of Education (MOE) a monopoly over the financial and managerial decision-making process. MOE retains key decisions on curricula development, determining national evaluation criteria, deciding budgets for educational districts, hiring and determining salaries and incentives for teachers, and training needs for teachers and administrators (UNDP Egypt Human Development Report 2004; and Law 139/1981).
Using this security frame, the government adopted militarized solutions that may not always have been appropriate for resolving social issues particularly educational problems. It has restricted the activities of unions, non-governmental organization (NGOs), and set a ban on the freedom of associations hindering the ability of the education system to evolve and to advance in accordance to the communities’ and stakeholders’ demands and needs.
THE IMPACT OF THE EDUCATION STRUCTURE ON PUBLIC PARTICIPATION
In recent years, a growing frustration among the public, parents and students alike, toward the troubled state of the education system was heightened. There are two particular events that have triggered this growing desperation and dismay of parents, students, and teachers with the education system in Egypt. The first event is the death of 10-year-old two students in 2007, due to the corporal punishment techniques used in public schools (Abdoun, 2008), where a fourth grade student at Saad Othman Primary School in Alexandria died after being kicked in the stomach by his mathematics teacher for not completing his homework (Abdoun, 2008). The second child died after her mathematics teacher asked the student to stand up against the wall for not completing her homework. When the teacher asked a school worker to bring him a stick to punish the undisciplined students, the student started shaking and passed away out of fear.
The second event is related to the organized cheating on national exams, where several teachers and parents received sentences of between 3 and 15 years in prison for leaking and buying national examinations (Dhillon, Fahmy, and Salehi-Isfahani, 2008). A group of teachers and student leaked and sold in Minya City the national high school certificate exam, Egypt’s feared and reviled exam. The scandal was publicized as the group sold the examination to a large number of students and parents to make bigger profit.
These recent events expose the growing discontent with the education system and underline the deterioration of the education system as a whole. Currently, the education system in Egypt suffers from poor overall quality. Its infrastructure is deteriorating, corporal punishment is widespread, the dropout rate is increasing, and unemployment among school graduates is pervasive. These problems in the education system are all attributed to the institutional structure formed under the 1952 Revolution, which supported free education and centralized all managerial and financial decisions at the discretion of government agencies, limiting public participation in the education process. Additional factors are attributed to the current control mechanism imposed by the government to control opposition, but in turn inhibits civic engagement at all levels.
The Impact of Free Education
Free education is still safeguarded by the Egyptian Constitution (Article 18, 19 & 20). As ideologically virtuous as it sounds, free education is not feasible, considering the very limited resources of the country. Consequently, from 1952 to date, the public school system receives inadequate funding and trained teachers (Sayed, 2006).
More importantly, free education required a massive expansion in the government bureaucracy to support its function and its delivery. Since the 1952, education investments were not well-allocated to produce good quality education, but rather to support the expansion of its bureaucracy. As a result, public education bureaucracy expanded beyond control, while learning outcomes have been disappointing.
Currently, Egypt has one of the largest education systems in the world, consisting of 15.5 million students, 807,000 teachers, and 37,000 schools (UNDP Egypt Human Development Report, 2008). Public schools enroll 90% of eligible students in Egypt. The education system employs the largest number of civil servants in Egypt. According to the Egypt Human Development Report, close to 1.5 million full and part-time teachers and administrators were employed by the Ministry of Education in 2005. Moreover, the statistics shows that 85% of the Ministry of Education’s budget has been designated for salaries, leaving a very small percentage for maintaining and developing new schools and teaching material (UNDP Egypt Human Development Report, 2005).
Demographic pressures and increasingly strained resources resulted in the physical disrepair of many primary schools, overcrowded classrooms, and poor teacher morale and motivation in the face of low salaries. According to United Nations Children’s Fund (UNCIEF) report, more than half of the 25,000 schools that were operating in the country in 2003 were considered unfit for educational activity and were a threat to the physical well-being of children and teachers.
In addition, teachers are underpaid and poorly qualified. The average teacher’s salary in 2007 is equivalent to $460 annually, less than half the country’s average per-capita income of $1643 (Glain, 2003; and Goliath Business News, 2006). Consequently, the teaching profession is attracting low-caliber instructors at public schools, which in turn contributes to the poor quality of education in terms of content and skills received.
Furthermore, the relatively high average enrollment rate in primary school of 90% masks the high number of repetitions, dropouts, and non-completions, especially in the villagers and countryside (UNDP Human Development Report, 2008). The classroom shortage forces administrators to assign 100 students at a time in a single course and hold classes in two shifts (Glain, 2003). In a focus group conducted by CARE International NGO, a sixteen-year-old student describes the situation in her own words: “If I am a few minutes late to class, all I can see is a mouth moving, because seats far from the instructor are the only ones available in the crowded classroom.”
The shortage in schools and teachers, and overcrowding in the classroom has bred a system where corporal techniques have become the only source of punishment. The UNDP Egypt Human Development report of 2008 estimated that around 50% of children in Upper Egypt and 70% of children in urban areas are subjected to physical discipline in schools.
The Impact of Centralization
The excessive government control over all decisions related to the education process, including the control over education curricula and national examinations have produced low-achieving students. Schooling in Egypt became mainly driven by the need to score high grades in national examinations, which determine access to university enrollment. “These exams do not only engender a culture of fear and frustration, but also reinforce rote memorization and stifle critical thinking and creative expression” (Dhillon, Fahmy, and Salehi-Isfahani, 2008).
As a result, many students graduate from high schools, secondary school, and universities with skills that do not match labor market requirements. This in turns leads to growing rates of unemployment. Unemployment rates among “educated youth” in 2006 (55% for high school students, 11% among tertiary graduates, and 14% among university graduates) indicate low and negative returns to secondary and university education (Dhillon, Fahmy, and Salehi-Isfahani, 2008; EL Mattrawy, 2006)
The centralization of decision-making in the field of education does not allow community members and stakeholders to be part of or influence the education process19. School principals, school administrators, and local education authorities are all appointed to their positions. Therefore, all policies related to education are left to appointed officials and bureaucrats. Egyptian citizens are not given the right to propose a law; they cannot revoke an act by the Ministry of Education; and they cannot remove appointed officials in the government.
The Impact of the National Political and Economic Environment
At the national level, community members and other stakeholders do not have proper or legal channels to voice their concerns and demands. This is attributed to the national political and economic structure that inhibits public participation, discussed in part 2 of this paper.
The political framework at the national level is one of the major impediments to public participation in the education field. It restricts citizens’ freedom of assembly, information, and association.
Under the Emergency Law implemented nationally, parents and community members cannot hold a public meeting without the approval of local authority. The authority has the absolute discretion under the law to deny their request without explanation or under the basis of protecting national security. There were no cases in which the Emergency Law was involved in the education field, because many parents, especially those from modest backgrounds, do not try to challenge the government, out of fear they will be imprisoned or ridiculed by it20.
The government control over unions’ activities is another major barrier for public participation, especially for teachers. Teachers in Egypt are underpaid. As mentioned above, the average teacher’s salary in 2007 is equivalent to $460 annually, less than half the country’s average per-capita income of $1643 (Glain, 2003; and Goliath Business News, 2006). This very low salary may encourage teachers to call for change of compensation scale. However, there is only one Teachers’ Union, which is government dominated and does not provide the required space for negotiation with government. The inability for teachers to negotiate their salaries and their incentives with the government has had a dire impact on the education system.
Thus, the education system is constantly suffering from a teacher shortage in public schools. Most other teachers resort to private tutoring as a vital source of income. Many teachers, particularly those working in public schools, intentionally withhold information from students inside the classroom to force them to resort to private tuition after class. Private tutoring may cost anywhere between $5 to $30 per hour depending on the teacher’s abilities and reputation. Many low-income families have been forced to take their children out of school because they do not have the means to pay for these private tutoring, and the teachers at the school do not give them the proper information that will allow them to advance to the next grade (Glain, 2003; and Hartmann, 2008). A public schoolteacher, Soueif, further explains “if teachers don’t give private lessons, they can’t live, and if students don’t take them they won’t learn. The whole families go hungry just to afford them” (Glain, 2003).
The ban over the freedom of association, which forbids teachers, parents and other community members from cooperating with the media, NGOs, political parties, and unions, is another major barrier to public participation in the education field. This ban limits the political and legal channels, where the public at large can express their concerns and move their demands to the political agenda.
Furthermore, there is very limited disclosure of information by the government regarding education policies, practices, and budgets. The absence of a provision that permits community members and other organizations to access government information hinders their ability to check education policies and outcomes. NGOs working in the field of education usually depend on anecdotes from the community to develop and plan their activities because they have difficult time accessing official information about government education policies. More importantly, official records of educational achievement, such as enrollment and access rates, are usually exaggerated by the government.
Government control of the national newspapers, national television, and radio is another obstacle for public participation in the education field. Even though some room is available for free expression in opposition papers, journalists opposed to the government may be subjected to harassment and even prosecution under the Emergency Laws. In addition, not all groups have equal access to the media, especially national T.V. and national newspapers. On a local level, there are few effective newspapers covering local and community news and interests (UNDP Egypt Human Development Report, 2008).
Moreover, the high rate of illiteracy and widespread poverty limits the opportunity for many parents and other members of the community to actively participate in the decision-making process and the outcomes of the education system. Because of low standard of living, communities – especially in poor rural areas – often allocate very little resources to the education process. Many parents are busy making ends meet, deterring their activism and participation in school governance. There are also many parents that are uneducated, which hinders their ability to participate in the school actively. Some poor, uneducated parents feel inferior and embarrassed approaching well-educated teachers (Coster, 2005).
THE IMPACT OF THE EDUCATION STRUCTURE ON PUBLIC PARTICIPATION: AN ANYLSIS AND CONCLUSION
Despite the growing desperation and dismay of parents, students, and teachers with the education system in Egypt, there are no signs of resistance or organized movements that aim at influencing the education process. This does not mean that the community is apathetic toward their children’s future. However, the highly controlled sociopolitical environment imposed by the current regime is in habiting civic engagement. Community members and parents do not want to confront the government21. Moreover, the current education structure does not give any assurance that the public opinion would be reflected in the decision-making process. Therefore, the community has resorted to alternative methods and practices such as private tutoring and private schooling to satisfy their needs and concerns. Sadly, these alternative methods and practices, particularly private tutoring, have a very negative impact on the country’s overall development, as it widens the inequality gap and restrains household income.
Experts estimate that private tutoring in Egypt consumes at least 20% of total household expenditures (Hartmann, 2008). Annual statistics shows that on average 40% of students receive private tutoring; this percentage goes up to 60% for students at the secondary stage (Hartmann, 2008). Even though private tutoring provides a better learning environment than public schools, the lesson plans and practices are still the same. Similar to public schools, private tutoring relies mostly on rote memorization to prepare students for the national exams (Dhillon, Fahmy, and Salehi-Isfahani, 2008). Still, teachers and students counter, secondary students hoping to attend Egypt’s better universities have little choice but to supplement their education process through the vast underground tutoring industry (Glain, 2003).
Private schooling is also widespread in Egypt, since only few of Egyptians can afford its costly tuition; private schools absorb about 9% to 10% of Egyptian students. Enrollment in private schools is increasing every year, in line with increased per capita income that Egyptian citizens are currently experiencing (Hartmann, 2008).
The widespread prevalence of private tutoring and schooling is indicative of the rising distrust among parents and communities of the public education system as a whole. It is also very alarming because the poor and ineffective allocation of education spending may result a greater gap inequality. The current education system is depriving the poor and middle class of quality education, which in turn will limit their employment opportunity. The wealthy, of course, are in a better position, as they can afford private schooling for quality education. Data from the Egypt Demographic and Health Survey (2002) show that 60 % from the poorest quintile took private lessons, compared to 84 % from the richest quintile (El Mattrawy, 2006; and Hartmann, 2008).
THE CURRENT GOVERNMENT INITIATIVES IN THE EDUCATION FIELD
Over the past two decades, Egypt has increased the public’s access to primary education. One of the major factors was a 1992 initiative in which the government increased the number of schools in the country (UNDP Egypt Human Development Report, 2008).
The government, without involving any stakeholders, relied mainly on its own capacities, to eventually achieve over 90% enrolment in public schools (UNDP Egypt Human Development Report, 2008). Currently, the reforms enacted 17 years ago have resulted in a Gross Enrollment Rate in public school of 96% in 2005-2006 (UNDP Egypt Human Development Report, 2006; and Birdsall and O’Connell, 1999).
However, the government was not able to reach everyone. There are 14 million illiterate children under the age of 10 and another 1 million dropouts. In addition, the government was not able to improve the quality and relevance of education because the reforms did not involve the community or NGOs (UNDP Egypt human Development Report, 2008). The community and NGOs could have helped the government in reaching out to these groups and in improving access to quality education in underprivileged areas because they have a better understanding of their surroundings. Adopting new approaches to delivering education services and promoting the active involvement of the community and NGOs are essential components in accessing high-quality education.
In the last few years, the Ministry of Education has expressed a real desire to encourage public participation and community involvement in the education system. In May 2007, the Ministry of Education launched its Five Year National Strategic Plan for Education Reform (2007/8 – 2011/12) aimed at a paradigm shift focusing on enhancing human capital development and national productivity. All stakeholders, including NGOs, have participated at different stages in the national strategic plan for education, 2007–2011 (UNDP Egypt Human Development Report, 2007. For more information regarding the Ministry of Education strategic plan, refer to appendix 3).
Under this plan, the Ministry of Education has passed two important policies that are designed to provide a venue for parents, stakeholders, and community members to express their concern and to influence the education process at the school level. The first policy is in regard to activating the role of School Board of Trustees and the second policy has set National Standards for Education that emphasizes community involvement as a measure.
The School Board of Trustees is a new concept for the Egyptian education system. This task force, consisting of teachers, school administration, community members, and parents, participates in the development and the implementation of school improvement plans; monitors and evaluates school performance; and mobilizes resources for the school. The establishment of the School Board of Trustees in the schools is very significant, as for the first time since the 1950s, parents and other stakeholders have a designated role, function, and a place in the education process.
The National Standards for Education policy allows schools and communities to have autonomy from the centralized authority of the government in deciding the processes and the strategies for improving their schools. This policy is also very significant, as for the first time in 50 years the government has recognized the role of the community in improving the education system.
The government for the first time is acknowledging the importance of community participation, as a significant parameter to improve the quality of education. The movement toward decentralization, broadening participation and accountability will require increased involvement of NGOs and the community at large.
CURRENT GOVERNMENT INITIATIVES IN THE FIELD OF EDUCATION: AN ANAYLSIS AND CONCLUSION
Two factors may have accounted for the government’s decision to allow for public participation at the school level after 50 years. First, the new leadership under the Egyptian Prime Minister, Ahmed Nazif, has allowed for such reforms to take place. Even though, the government’s military-inspired and authoritarian behavior persist, in 2004 Mubarak assigned the Prime Minister position to a visionary leader, Ahmed Nazif. The new cabinet, under Nazif’s leadership, committed itself to achieving economic liberalization and enhancing the domestic infrastructure of the country. Therefore, the new cabinet placed economic, education, and healthcare reform at the top of its agenda, allowing greater participation for civil society and international development organizations in the decision-making process. Based on the recommendation of the UNDP Egypt Human Development report in 2005, which called attention to the importance of community participation as a significant parameter to improve the quality of education, the government passed these education reforms.
Second, the current Egyptian government initiatives in the education field, the Board of Trustees and the National Education Standards, do not challenge the current repressive political structure of the country. The reforms do not encourage genuine participation in policy decisions, as they limit community participation to information sharing and consultation. The government is still controlling the education system and it is inhibiting public participation. Parents, community members, and teachers are still unable to advance their concerns and to influence educational outcomes. Union activities are limited; parents cannot meet without the approval of the government, and organizations involved in education cannot collaborate with teachers and parents under the law. This forces parents and other key players involved in the education process to relinquish their role and disengage from policymaking.
Certainly the two educational policies – the Board of Trustees and the National Education Standards – are a breakthrough, considering that the educational system since 1952 did not allow or provide any space for the community to participate in the educational process. However, these policies fail to address certain weaknesses in the current institutional arrangements in the education system. Among the biggest obstacles facing the development of education in Egypt, as the present paper aims to prove, is the limitation imposed on public participation.
The shortfalls in the current educational reform, which include high classroom density, a high dropout rate in primary schools, high spending on private tutoring, a mismatch between school curricula and market needs, will only be resolved through the active involvement of the community and NGOs. Essentially, community participation has been recognized as an important and significant strategy for efficient and effective utilization of limited resources in order to identify and solve problems in education and to provide quality education for children (Pailwar and Mahajan, 2005).
Therefore, the Egyptian government has to improve the education system through collaboration that is based on a bottom-up dialectic relationship. Therefore, the current institutional arrangement in the field of education has to provide a proper and genuine atmosphere that enables the stakeholders in the educational field to change or influence the educational reality. The government and the Ministry of Education cannot expect the education system to develop by recognizing the importance of community involvement only.
Achieving significant development in the education field cannot be attained without coordination between the state and the community, including civil society organizations, parents, teachers… etc. “An organized society rests on three pillars: the state, the private sector and the social space occupied by citizens and in which they organize themselves voluntarily to promote common values and objectives” (UNDP Egypt Human Development Report, 2008). Therefore, the government must remove the barriers and constraints that inhibit civic engagement. The liberalization of educational institutions is crucial for fostering sustainable institutional mechanisms for ongoing policy dialogue between the community and the state. A culture of civic participation promotes a sense of responsibility for one’s community and social development, and without it in Egypt that sense of responsibility is lacking.
Social policy in Egypt must, therefore, be the outcome of a consultative process between the state and its citizens. This will require measures both legislative and administrative to enable civil society organizations, political parties, the media, and unions to participate more vigorously in these programs as partners in welfare and services provision and as the voice of reform through their capacity to monitor and render accountable all stakeholders in the national endeavor (UNDP Egypt Human Development Report, 2008). These elements will complement the executive, the judiciary, and the legislative branches in responding frequently to social issues and problems in the field of education.
The major question that this study has addressed is the extent to which the sociopolitical environment of Egypt limits public participation and affects social development. This study with its concentration on public participation in the education field seeks to understand why activism and volunteerism is limited in the Egyptian society, and to evaluate how the absence of public participation has had a dire impact on social services and social development. This study attempts to explore what key aspects and political values in Egypt are obstructing public participation at the political and social level. Essentially, the military-inspired sociopolitical institutions and the repressive state behavior aimed at eliminating all opposition to the regime constitute the main factors limiting public participation in Egypt and impeding the country’s social development.
The authoritarian military-inspired behavior of the state since the establishment of the Republic in 1952 has left a permanent mark on the sociopolitical development of Egypt. In the early years of the Republic, the need to establish legitimacy and national security pushed the government to respond to all political and social issues in the country using a military mindset to maintain order, stability and legitimacy. This security and military framework had very severe consequences for the political and social development of Egypt. First, Egyptian political culture, shaped by government imposed repression, solidified, turning Egyptian politics into a battle ground for Mubarak’s regime and Islamists who today fight for control over the government and the society. In fact, the degree of state repression and the scope of Islamist activism mutually reinforce each other, undermining political processes by making democracy unlikely. Second, given the repressive behavior of the state, the Egyptian government was not only able to suppress all opposition, but more importantly, it was able to eliminate and crush the public’s desire to participate in the decision-making process at any level.
This study concentrated on how the various control mechanisms on political parties, NGOs, unions, and the media, imposed by Mubarak’s regime to maintain order, legitimacy and stability, have eliminated all legal and legitimate forums by which the public can express its concerns and demands. This study argues that the lack of interaction between the public and the state contributed to the deterioration of the education field and other public services. The current social institutions do not give any assurance that public opinion would be reflected in the decision-making process. Ultimately, the public refrained from participating.
Through evaluating education policies, this study concludes that without a genuine attempt to liberalize the Egyptian sociopolitical environment to foster democratic institution, social development will not occur in Egypt. Public participation is an essential component for the development of the Egyptian society. By limiting the activities of NGOs, political parties, unions, and the media, the government is isolating the public. This study concludes that the Egyptian government will not be able to respond to the growing needs of the society without the active participation of the public.
In order to encourage public participation, the Egyptian government must introduce certain legislative measures to enable civil society organizations, political parties, media, and unions to participate more vigorously in social programs, as partners, in welfare and services provision, and as the voice of reform through their capacity to monitor and to render accountable all stakeholders in the national endeavor.
In the point of view of this study, there are three important policy measures that need to be introduced in the Egyptian legislative framework to effectively prompt public participation in the society.
First, the ban over the freedom of association has to be halted. The interaction between the public, NGOs, political parties, unions, and the media is an essential component for the development of any society. Through this interaction the public can move its concerns to the political arena and ensure that its demands are reflected in the decision-making process. Essentially, the Egyptian law prohibits the establishment of political parties grounded in social and professional movements. Therefore, the existing legislative framework weakens public participation by removing partisan politics away from unions, grassroots organizations, and other associations. Freedom of association is a prerequisite for creating a public space in society where people can come together to debate and seek to influence their government and to change their own living reality.
Second, the freedom of assembly must be protected. Currently, under the Emergency and the Anti-terrorism Law the public and all institutions are not allowed to assemble without the permission of the government, which can deny their request under genuine or “fabricated” national security claims. The Emergency and Anti-Terrorism Law does not clearly define what activities constitute as national threat, leaving the government the discretion to determine whether or not a violation has occurred. This vague definition of “national threat” in the Emergency and Anti-Terrorism Law increases the scope of arbitrary central government decisions, and develops a high level of uncertainty. Therefore, a clear and specific definition of what activities constitute national threat must be introduced. A clear definition will limit the government violation of human rights and will assure the public that its fundamental human rights will not be violated. Freedom of assembly will encourage the public’s desire to participate in the decision-making process at all levels.
Finally, a law that allows the public to access government documents has to be introduced. Essentially, the Egyptian government controls the dissemination of information, limiting the public and the media as well as civil society organizations’ ability to monitor government’s activities. The absence of a provision that permits the public, the media, political parties, unions, and NGOs to access government information allows the executive branch to excessively use its power with no supervision. The absence of such a provision also increases public distrust of the government, diminishing the public’s desire to participate in government’s activities. Freedom of information will address and enrich the “public trust” by fostering transparency and good governance values, so that the public could once again trust the government and participate actively in the society.
These measures will ensure public participation at the social level and increase the public ownership over social projects. They will also generate legitimate channels where the public can influence the decision-making process by advancing their concerns to the political arena.
CAVEATS AND FUTURE RESEARCH
As noted, this study argues that institutions fostered under a democratic political environment will encourage civic participation and produce an engaged citizenry by allowing the public to express its demands and orientations through a legitimate and clearly identified medium. The study has also proposed several measures and policies that are needed to prompt public participation in the Egyptian society. However, it is important to recognize that the liberalization of the sociopolitical institutions and environment in Egypt will not immediately prompt civic engagement for two reasons. First, given Egypt’s Pharaonic past and Islamic heritage, a possible psychological readiness of the Egyptians to accept authoritarian rule facilitates the persistence of authoritarianism in this country. Second, given the decline of democratization over the years, Egyptian political parties, unions, and NGOs are very weak internally and will take some time until they can function effectively as an important medium that facilitates public participation in the society.
Essentially, Egyptian political culture takes its root from the country’s Pharaonic past and Islamic heritage. According to Ali Dessouki (1971), the Egyptian public has tended to be submissive because in the past, the country’s ruler – the pharaoh – was idealized as a God. This feature underlines the reason behind the Egyptian lack of interest in political and public matters. Furthermore, Dessouki argues that the Islamic heritage adds to the Egyptians’ long neutrality in public and political affairs. The Islamic concept of authority, which claims God to be the absolute sovereign, and defines the notion of state and politics within a divine framework, is likely to account for the Egyptians psychological readiness to comply with any authoritarian rule.
Furthermore, the current legislative framework in Egypt is not the only factor that weakens the effectiveness of political parties, NGOs, and unions. These institutions are very weak in Egypt, as they also suffer from the following essential problems: unclear platforms, vague political speech, poor financial structure, and domination of historical leaderships (Abdel Halim, 2005). Most of these institutions do not implement modern political tools, including the use of large-scale conferences and other tools, to reach out to the masses in a way that is publicly recognized (Abdel Halim, 2005; and UNDP Egypt Human Development Report, 2008). In return, these institutions are not in direct contact with the masses and they are not fully supported by the public. Such problems make politics less interesting in the eyes of the public and diminish the public’s desire to participate.
Therefore, this study calls for other scholars to examine in greater depth the effect of the Egyptian culture and its institutions on public participation. The examination of the Egyptian culture and institutions in relation to public participation will complement the policy measures introduced in this study. As pointed out in this research there are several legislative measures that are needed to be introduce to the Egyptian sociopolitical environment in order to create a favorable environment that would allow for public participation. However, understanding the cultural factors that contribute to the lack of activism and volunteerism in the Egyptian society will help identify specific measures that are needed for building a culture of public participation in Egyptian society.
Appendix 1- Important Egyptian Constitutional Rights and Freedoms
The right to equality before the law (Egyptian Constitution 2007, article 40).
The right to freely practice and manifest their religion in a place of worships (the Egyptian Constitution 2007, article 46).
- The right to remain innocent until proven guilty (The Egyptian Constitution, article 67).
- The right to an attorney, even when it is beyond their means (The Egyptian Constitution 2007, article 67).
- The right to protect home from unwarranted search (The Egyptian Constitution 2007, article 45).
- The right to privacy and security of communications (The Egyptian Constitution 2007, article 41).
- The right to protect citizens from arbitrary arrest or detention (The Egyptian Constitution 2007, article 44).
- The right for assembly (The Egyptian Constitution 2007, article 49).
- The right for freedom of association (The Egyptian Constitution 2007, article 55).
- The right for freedom of speech (The Egyptian Constitution 2007, article 47).
Appendix 2: An Overview of the Egyptian Education System- cited in (EL Zeki, 2007)
“The education system in Egypt is state-sponsored and set up in three stages: primary school (6 years), preparatory school (3 years), and secondary school (3 years). Basic education consists of the first two stages and is obligatory for all students in the country, although 16% of girls still do not enroll in primary school. Primary schools are not segregated by sex, but the public preparatory and secondary schools are. There are, however, many co-educational private schools with fees affordable only for the middle and upper classes” (EL Zeki, 2007).
Appendix 3: Ministry of Education Five Year National Strategic Plan (2007/8 – 2011/12)
Source is cited in UNDP Egypt Human Development Report, 2008.
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1 Since the establishment of the Republic of Egypt in 1952, the parliament used to nominate one presidential candidate, and the public votes reassure the nomination through a national referendum.
2 Public services and public work was a top priority for the Egyptian government during the reign of Muhammad Ali, the Ottoman governor of Egypt between the years of 1805 and 1848. Then was continued by Ismail the Magnificent, the rule of Egypt between 1863 and 1879 (Cleveland, 2004). Muhammed Ali and Ismail the Magnificent implemented a state-sponsored Europeanization program for military, healthcare, court system, and education system. Investment in public service came to a complete stop after the British forces invaded Egypt in 1882 where they stayed until 1956 (Cleveland, 2004).
4 The Muslim Brotherhood was founded on 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, a schoolteacher. The group came to existence during the British occupation. In its early years, the organization functioned as a mutual aid to society that dedicated its activities to providing moral and social service. By the 1930s, it developed a political identity due to the growing British control of the country (Murta, 2007). Ideologically, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamic views present a very conservative interpretation of the Quran. The organization promotes a return to Islamic teachings as a remedy to all problems facing Egyptian society (Murta, 2007). Furthermore, the organization advocates a return the establishment of an Islamic state with Islamic principles.
5 The Muslim Brotherhood organization attracts both males and females. One of the most prominent figures and a founder of the organization is Zeinab el Ghazally, a female activist and Islamic philosopher. El Ghazally has contributed in disseminating Muslim Brotherhood’s ideas and principles through her numerous and popular books on Islamic Shari’a- Islamic ideologies and regulations. Currently, there are numerous other female activists advocating for Muslim Brotherhood’ ideas and ideologies most famously Noha el Zainy (Cleveland, 2004).
6 Suez Canal was under the control of the British Occupation for more than 90 years. All the proceeds and revenues generated by the Canal benefited the British government only. It is important to note that the nationalization of the Suez Canal was possible due to the friction between the Soviet Union and the Western Alliance.
8Freedom House measures freedom according to two broad categories: political rights and civil liberties. Political rights enable people to participate freely in the political process through the right to vote, compete for public office and elect representatives who have a decisive impact on public policies and are accountable to the electorate. Civil liberties allow for the freedoms of expression and belief, associational and organizational rights, rule of law, and personal autonomy without interference from the state. Freedom House score does not rate governments or government performance per se, but rather the real-world rights and freedoms enjoyed by individuals. Freedoms can be affected by state actions, as well as by non-state actors, including terrorists and other armed groups (Freedom House, 2007).
9 The main features of the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty were the mutual recognition of each country by the other, the cessation of the state of war that had existed since the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, and the complete withdrawal by Israel of its armed forces and civilians from the rest of the Sinai Peninsula which Israel had captured during the 1967 Six-Day War. The agreement also provided for the free passage of Israeli ships through the Suez Canal and recognition of the Strait of Tiran, the Gulf of Aqaba and the taba – rafah straits as international waterways.
10 The defeat of the organization, Muslim Brotherhood, under Nasser after the 1952 Revolution had opened the door for the reassessment of the Muslim Brotherhood by its leader Said Qutb, which laid the ideological foundation for today’s Islamist movements. Qutb is considered to be the pioneer of Islamic fundamentalism. According to Qutb, Islam was a political movement that aims to establish an Islamic state. Qutb also dismissed the traditional Islamic view which rejected political combat as a priority. Based on Qutb writings, he called for a cultural revolution with its ultimate aim of establishing Islam as the sole norm for cultural, social and political sphere in the country. For Qutb, secular nationalism was an evil reign, in which sovereignty was not based on Allah, but an idol, so-called nationalism. Accordingly, nationalism must be crushed by seizing power through a cultural revolution before Islamic order could be established (Kepel 2002; and Murta, 2007). The Muslim Brotherhood absorbs today’s Islamic groups such as Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, and Gamaat Islamiyah under its umbrella (Munson, 2001)
11 Egyptian culture is also an important factor in the persistence of authoritarianism in Egypt; however due to the limited scope of this paper cultural factors are not discussed.
12 The psychological readiness of the Egyptians to accept authoritarian rule is an important factor that facilitates the persistence of authoritarianism in Egypt, however this factor is not discussed due to the limited scope of this paper.
13 As mentioned in the introduction, the Egyptian psychological readiness to accept authoritarian rule is another important factor that inhibits public participation. Due to the limited scope of this paper, this factor will not be discussed.
14 As mentioned in the introduction, the Egyptian psychological readiness to accept authoritarian rule is another important factor that inhibits public participation. Due to the limited scope of this paper, this factor will not be discussed.
15 The parliament is consistently denying the registration of the Muslim Brotherhood party under the provision of article 5, even though it has a strong grassroots support particularly in rural Egypt. Under Egyptian constitution of 2007, article 5 states that “no political activity shall be exercised or political parties shall be established on the basis of religion or on discrimination due to gender or race.”
16 The state was able to substantiate its domination over unions through the enactment of Law No. 100 of 1993 on professional associations, which imposed harsh conditions governing the legal quorum necessary for unions’ elections. The Law has unfortunately resulted in a stagnation that affects most professional associations and has deprived many thousands of professionals from exercising their democratic rights for elections. Elections have not been held in eleven unions over a period of up to thirteen years (UNDP Egypt Human Development Report, 2008).
17 Currently, the internet and blogs are not under the government surveillance.
18 Balochistan project was able to achieve 159% enrollment rate for girls, as the village schools enrolled girls from neighboring towns.
19 Specific examples of individual cases could not be found. It is important to note that interviews with individuals in the education field would have supported this claim. However, due to the limited scope of the paper, interviews were not conducted.
20 Specific examples of individual cases could not be found. It is important to note that interviews with individuals in the education field would have supported this claim. However, due to the limited scope of the paper, interviews were not conducted.
21 Specific examples of individual cases could not be found. It is important to note that interviews with individuals in the education field would have supported this claim. However, due to the limited scope of the paper, interviews were not conducted.
House of Coups
THE KIDS CALLED it “the house of revolution.” It was a huge place on Tahrir Square, more like a decaying antique shop than an apartment, with rooms full of dusty furniture and gilt-framed paintings, decaying encyclopedias, dead plants, chipped tables covered with ashtrays and plates of half-eaten food. The owner, a 50-year-old bohemian named Pierre Sioufi, threw it open after the demonstrations began, giving refuge to protesters not out of any political conviction but because he was afraid there would be a massacre and he wanted to protect the kids.
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Pierre is a bearded man with a pear-shaped, 300-pound body and gray shoulder-length hair that soars in every direction. He sat at a huge cluttered desk by the door, welcoming visitors, giggling and chain-smoking Marlboros. He wore a faintly Dada T-shirt with the Kentucky Fried Chicken logo of Colonel Sanders on it, and below it the words, in Arabic, “May your grandfather rest in peace.”
Word had spread, and an eclectic crowd colonized the place: Cairene artists and intellectuals, scores of college-age protesters, journalists and human rights workers, even a few Islamists, all resting and plotting and sharing information throughout the day and night. They would cook a huge pot of lentils each evening and carry it downstairs to distribute to those sleeping in the square. People came and went constantly, stepping over sleeping bodies, glowing laptops and Pierre’s cat and two terriers. No one was in charge, yet somehow someone fixed the toilet and washed the dishes and stocked the kitchen with bread and beans and fruit.
One night I found myself listening to Magdy Ashour, a 40-year-old factory worker and former Muslim Brotherhoodmember who was now a member of Parliament, as he described how the Egyptian police tortured him in 2002, using electrical wires on his genitals. He has been arrested dozens of times. He had taken his wife and two children to Tahrir Square, and he would not leave until Hosni Mubarak stepped down, he said.
“Last week I saw a man shot to death next to me,” Ashour said. “So we decided, for each one killed, we will bring five more to the square.”
Sitting next to him on a mattress was Khaled Abol Naga, a famous Egyptian actor who has been a vocal critic of the Mubarak regime for years. State television retaliated by spreading rumors that he was gay and a foreign agent. “The best thing Hosni Mubarak did was push people so hard that they all melded together,” he said. “The poor, the wealthy, secular people, Muslim Brothers, we all came together, and it spread to every city in Egypt.”
On Friday, Feb. 11, I was standing on Pierre’s vast panoramic balcony at dusk, gazing out at the crowds in the square, when a burst of wild cheers emerged suddenly from a point near the center of the crowd. It spread like ripples on a pond, swelling into a roar of joy. I looked at my watch: it was 6:06. Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s latter-day pharaoh, was gone.
Behind me, people were hugging one another, running back and forth to the balcony, their eyes glowing with tears and disbelief. Pierre was jumping up and down in front of the television, his feet stomping the floor.
Magdy Ashour was standing there in an army-surplus jacket, smiling. “We came out of the grave at last,” he said, and then Khaled Abol Naga walked up and hugged him.
In Pierre’s living room, Layla Saeed, the mother of the young man whose murder by police in Alexandria last June helped to fuel the protests, stood clutching a furry white pillow with an image of her dead son, Khaled, on it. A young man kneeled down and kissed her hand. Someone else rushed up and handed her a cellphone. It was Wael Ghonim, the young Google executive who set up a Facebook page called We Are All Khaled Saeed and later helped organize the Jan. 25 protests. She walked slowly onto the balcony and broke into sobs as she spoke to Ghonim.
Night fell, and pink and green fireworks shooting up from Tahrir Square illuminated the tall minaret of the Omar Makram mosque. I sat down with a group of blissed-out protesters at the feet of Layla Saeed and her brother, who looked at the young people around him and said: “The older generation has done nothing for you. We’re dwarfs by comparison. We’re here to celebrate your revolution and kiss the ground beneath your feet.”
The next morning, I woke late and made my way slowly to the square. It was a lovely day, sunny and breezy and calm. People were sweeping up all over the place, putting garbage and rubble into bags. Some wore paper signs with the words “Sorry for the disturbance — we’re building Egypt.”
It was quiet and clean at Pierre’s place too, only a few people left sprawling on the couches. Pierre was at his desk, still wearing the Colonel Sanders T-shirt.
“Welcome to a free Egypt,” he said, with a benevolent smile on his tired, puffy face. “Hopefully.”
Women Fight to Maintain Their Role in the Building of a New Egypt
CAIRO — When the prime minister of Egypt stepped down on Thursday, Shereen Diaa, 32, was cooking lunch for her two young sons in a suburb on Cairo’s outskirts. A veiled woman who molds her life around her children, Ms. Diaa had promised herself she would stop attending political protests and focus on her boys, ages 6 and 8. But when she saw on Facebook that the new prime minister himself would address the protesters the next day, in an unprecedented act, she could not resist.
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¶“I will leave you only two hours,” she said she told the children, dropping them off with her mother and then heading downtown to Tahrir Square.
¶In the raucous crowd, she stepped on a water jug to catch a glimpse of the prime minister, Essam Sharaf, who had stood with the demonstrators before Hosni Mubarak was ousted as president. “I see him! I am really happy!” she exclaimed, beaming, one voice among thousands. “Raise your head high, you are Egyptian!” they chanted.
¶Egypt’s popular revolution was the work of men and women, bringing together housewives and fruit sellers, businesswomen and students. At its height, roughly one quarter of the million protesters who poured into the square each day were women. Veiled and unveiled women shouted, fought and slept in the streets alongside men, upending traditional expectations of their behavior.
¶The challenge now, activists here say, is to make sure that women maintain their involvement as the nation lurches forward, so that their contribution to the revolution is not forgotten.
¶“Things have not changed, they are changing,” said Mozn Hassan, 32, the executive director of the organization Nazra for Feminist Studies. She barely returned home during the 18 days it took to topple Mr. Mubarak, but that is not enough, she said. “Revolution is not about 18 days in Tahrir Square and then turning it into a carnival and loving the army,” she said. “We have simply won the first phase.”
¶It is an indication of the place of women here that Ms. Hassan was referring to the need for political gains and true equality, rather than some more basic rights denied to women in parts of the Arab world. Even as this country has become more devout, experts say roughly 25 percent of Egyptian women work outside their homes. And they are allowed to mix more freely in public with men than in some other Arab countries.
¶But a recent report by the World Economic Forum ranked Egypt 125th out of 134 countries when judging the equality between men and women, in good part because so many women do not work, 42 percent of women cannot read or write and almost no women are political leaders. (In 2010, only 8 of the 454 seats in Parliament were held by women.)
¶Genital cutting of women is still widely practiced in Egypt, especially in rural areas. Women here also suffer a level of sexual harassment that would not be tolerated in many countries. They are often verbally harassed on the street in Cairo and sometimes groped in crowded spaces whether they are veiled or not, leading many wealthier women to simply abandon walking downtown.
¶Egypt is a step ahead of other popular uprisings in the region, which have had similar bursts of female participation, accompanied by a recognition from men that their support is vital. In Bahrain, hundreds of women wrapped in traditional black tunics stood up to the authorities in the demonstrations against the government, but in a nod to their conservative culture, they slept and prayed outside during protests in a roped-off women’s section. In Yemen, only in the past few days have significant numbers of women started to protest in Sana, the capital, but their numbers were dwarfed by the crowds of men.
¶Ms. Diaa, whose husband works for a multinational corporation, said the role of housewives in Egypt’s revolution has been critical because they often have more time to protest than their husbands. The importance of wives has long been clear to the Muslim Brotherhood; women are active in the charitable groups that form the organization’s backbone.
¶“We feel this is our country now,” said Abrar Mousad, 15, a Brotherhood supporter who stood in the square with her mother, aunt and cousin. They had come from the northern city of Tanta to take part. “Everything has changed. I can say what I think and what I need without any fear from anyone.”
¶That assessment may be overly optimistic; feminists acknowledge that the battle for equality will not be easy. Still, women here are energized, and say perhaps the greatest change so far has been internal. They came to be convinced that the traffic-choked streets of downtown Cairo, long a male-dominated space, could be equally theirs despite years of rampant sexual harassment.
¶A study in 2008 by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights found that a vast majority of the women surveyed had been harassed. And the harassers, who are often members of the state security forces, are almost never punished, said Nehad Abu El Komsan, the director of the organization.
Egyptian Revolution Backstory
To most of the world, the protests in Egypt looked like a spontaneous uprising. But according to filmmaker Lillie Paquette, it was actually the culmination of years of methodical organizing. We meet her and get a behind-the-scenes view of the buildup to a revolution.
Egypt’s Revolutionary Backstory
We started this segment with a clip of Lillie Paquette. She’s a Canadian-American filmmaker. And in the tape she’s talking to an Egyptian activist named Basem Fathi, on the day Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigned.
Lillie Paquette met Basem Fathi a-year-and-a-half before that while she was filming a documentary in Egypt. Long before the Egyptian revolution became front-page news, Lillie Paquette was following Basem and other young activists as they struggled for democratic change in Egypt. And without knowing it, she was documenting the back-story to a revolution that would transform Egypt and the entire region. Lillie Paquette was in Boston this morning. She’s screening her documentary We Are Egypt at universities in the United States.
This Day in History
On this day in 44 BC, a handful of Roman senators stabbed Julius Caesar to death.
2,055 years later, we Canadians have learned there are even more painful ways to change government — elections. Beware the Ides of March, people.