Sunday, November 27, 2011

On the eve of the elections

So Egypt the night before the elections...

Can't say I'm very optimistic - though I've mostly been hanging out with revolutionaries from January who are run down and depressed and think the country is going to hell.

There is talk of liberal candidates having been stabbed by remnants of the old regime. People won't let their mothers go vote alone, because they are afraid of violence. Most activists think the elections are irrelevant, because they won't change anything. The military council will stay in power despite the elected parliament, and the parliament will have no power to do much of anything. Some of the activists are voting anyway because they fought so hard for these elections. Others don't see the point or don't think it's appropriate to be campaigning and voting when people were dying on the streets a few days ago.

Almost everyone I've spoken to is gearing up for a long fight against the military council, long past these elections.

"I'll go vote and then come back to Tahrir," I heard several times.

Then there's the fact that no one has any idea how the voting will work logistically. Nobody knows the rules, who's running, where they have to go to vote, or which party belongs to which block. The system is unnecessarily complicated - perhaps because of the militay's incompetence in election planning, perhaps because they meant for it to be.

I hung out with one activist who spends his time walking around the streets trying to inform people about the elections. We'll be at a felafel shop and he'll start up a conversation.

"You planning to vote tomorrow?"

He gives them his analysis of which candidates really represent the protest movement, counters their conspiracy theories about the revolutionaries, and tries to help convince them that Baradie did not cause the invasion of Iraq.

"Just tell me who to vote for and I'll do it," one shoemaker pleaded with him once.

Because of the lack of knowledge, the insecurity, and the political context, these elections - as a friend of mine told me - are a disaster.... or worse, a trap. Many activists see them as a ploy to push them into a corner. They will lose legitimmacy on the street because the military council will be able to say "You wanted elections - we gave you elections. Now go home." And yet those elections will not represent the change they were meant to.

Morale seems lower. Tahrir has lost its class. People say the tear gas has had a lingering effect on them - that they're drained - physically and mentally.

"I ran on empty for months," my friend Mona told me of the initial revolution. She lost 20 pounds and devoted every waking minute to the struggle. "I’m not the same anymore. Nobody is, in this country."

But this second revolution has re-invigorated people, and I have never seen Egyptians engaging in such healthy political discussions. When you walk through Tahrir, you find groups of people huddled together debating the way forward.

"We cannot vote under these circumstances! How can we hold elections in a country that can't even secure a soccer pitch!"

"No, we have to vote! If we don't vote, the Islamists will take power!"

"What we need is to abandon all ideology and come together!"

Hold on to your horses. This is going to a bumpy ride...

*** The views expressed in this blog are my own and do not reflect the opinions or positions of the United Nations or IRIN ***

People gathered at Tahrir

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A couple months in

I have been horribly absent - I know. A sign, I suppose, that Dubai really isn't that bad.

It's clean. It's functional. It's ... fine. It's not a place I'll ever fall in love with, but it's manageable. In fact, people always complain that it's easy to lose time here. The days go by quickly and you don't ever know quite how you spent them.

I complain a lot that the place has no soul, but it would be unfair to say it isn't interesting... Where else in the world can you find a woman in a niqab next to a woman in a bikini? Anything goes here, and everyone accepts everyone else as they are. And it is very cosmopolitan. You can find people and food from around the world - though the different cultures are not engrained and appreciated the way they are in, say, Toronto. It's also unique in how quickly it has grown. Many of the places we hang out in were desert just thirty - or in some cases five! - years ago.

We spend long hours here debating Egyptian politics, Syria's uprising, Qaddafi's death. I fear the elections in Egypt will be a disaster, given how complicated the election rules are and how little anyone knows about the different party platforms - including the parties themselves! In Syria, I spend a lot of time arguing with friends that things are not as black and white as they seem on TV... that there are weapons and interests at play within the opposition and that a significant proportion of the population still supports Bashar. Qaddafi's death? Even my friend's 65-year-old mother couldn't stop herself from watching the gruesome videos...

All this to say, it's been interesting.

I'm off to Libya in the coming days, to get a sense of how things are progressing on the ground in what is likely to be the hardest part of the revolution; and then to Egypt for the elections.

I promise I'll blog more consistently when I get back.

*** The views expressed in this blog are my own and do not reflect the opinions or positions of the United Nations or IRIN ***