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Insta-Reactions to Today's Pro-Democracy Protest in Egypt
Insta-Reactions to Today's Pro-Democracy Protest in Egypt
I was just at the pro-democracy protest in Tahrir Square, Cairo, which finished up about 30 minutes ago (although I think many of the protestors are still trapped in by police).
Tuesday, May 4,2010 08:22
by Shadi Hamid Democracy Arsenal

I was just at the pro-democracy protest in Tahrir Square, Cairo, which finished up about 30 minutes ago (although I think many of the protestors are still trapped in by police). Check out my twitter updates here, where I covered the protest in real-time. Just before, I had come out of a meeting at the US embassy - literally 100 meters from the protest site - more convinced that democracy is rather low on the US-Egypt priority list. In any case, the protest was small, under 100 people, but outflanked by more than 200 policemen who dutifully cordoned off the protesters, making it something of a physical challenge for people to join.

There's also the visual spectacle of Egyptian citizens being surrounded by a sea of black, which I imagine has the effect of depressing turnout. So the low numbers have to be understood in that context - the Egyptian regime is nothing short of masterful at protest containment. Nobody does it better.

But it's not only that. One couldn't help but notice the conspicuous absence of Muslim Brotherhood members. For both better and worse, the MB is the only group in Egypt with strong, country-wide grassroots support and, traditionally, the only opposition force capable of getting tens of thousands into the streets (which it did in 2005 at the height of the "Arab spring"). Their lack of participation was expected but somewhat odd, considering that the original protest organizers ("ashab al-dawa" more accurately) were Brotherhood MPs, along with some allies. The original group of 7 MPs included Hamdi Hassan and Mohamed Biltagi of the MB and Hamdeen Sabahi of Karama. It was supposed to be a march to the parliament building, but the authorities made clear that if anyone started marching, there would be severe consequences. The Brotherhood MPs, being part of a notoriously cautious organization, backed down and decided to call of the march, fearful they would be held responsible for any subsequent bloodshed. Sponsoring organizations, such as April 6 and Baradei's National Association for Change, wanted to march but were apparently overruled. (To be fair, it's unclear how they could have marched considering that the police were blocking them at every exit). 

I talked to journalist Eman Abdelmoneim about the Brotherhood's role and she made the interesting point that different parts of the Brotherhood are acting in increasingly independent fashion, with the parliamentary office being divorced from the student wing, and so on. That's part of it, but the explanation is probably more simple: the Brotherhood, smarting from the intensifying repression of the last 3 years, is not ready to return to streets - to the detriment of the rest of the opposition.

Watching this protest makes me even more convinced: it's good that Baradei is building a "movement," and getting people excited, but it's bound to fail unless he enlists not just the Brotherhood's rhetorical support, but their actual support. To the extent that Baradei is "flirting" with the Brotherhood, he probably needs to flirt a bit more. 

That said, "flirt" is probably the right word here, because anything more than flirting at this early stage will give the regime an easy pretext to crack down on Baradei and his supporters. And that wouldn't be in anyone's interests - except the regime's.

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tags: Egy[tian Democracy / Protesters / Brotherhood MPs / Baradei / Egyptian Parliament / Karama / US Embassy / Democracy Protest / Egyptian Citizens / Egyptian Regime / Muslim Brotherhood Members / Hamdi Hassan / Mohamed Biltagi / Hamdeen Sabahi
Posted in Reform Issues , Democracy  
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