Timing is Everything
Timing is Everything
Tuesday, May 6,2008 14:57
By GrandMasta Splash

Kamal Habib has a thoughtful piece on "The New Protest Movements in Egypt" in today’s Al-Jazeera.Net.

According to Habib, the Egyptian protest/reform movement has passed through three stages. The first began in late 2004 with the emergence of Kefaya,and it sponsored large political protests, which were made possible, in large part by pressure from the Neo-cons in the Bush administration who were calling for a new era of democracy in the region. However, the Neo-cons soon changed their mind about democracy after electorial victories by Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. At this point, interests overtook ideology and the Egyptian and American regimes put an end to any democracy movements. So in this second phase, which lasted throughout 2007, the movement focused solely on economic issues, trying to figure out ways to combat the rise in prices or decrease in wages. Phase three, which can be traced to the April 6th strike, has combined both political and economic demands, and is notable for the participation of a younger generation who use methods which are much more difficult for the authorities to combat, such as "Al-Facebook."

However, Habib is cautious about how aggressive the movement should be, noting that the regime still has alot of cards in its hand. He also points to the experience of the Chinese Student movement in 1989, which had the support of 100,000 students, plus a million others from the capital, but was destroyed once the army intervened. Egypt’s movement must not push its luck and must be patient: "Social change and action in Egypt is very difficult and requires alot of strategic patience… The Reform movements that have succesfully achieved social change have a social base that is ready for struggle to achieve the cause, and is willing to pay the price, perhaps for an extended period."

Is the Egyptian movement mature/strong enough to really bring serious change? Clearly Egypt has alot of committed activists at the intellectual level. But can they mobilize any significant portion of the general population. Splash is being intentionally provocatively, but up this point they have not done this and it is doubtful that they can. It just does not seem that more than 1-2% of the population is willing to make the necessary "struggle" or "pay the price" (ie take a bat to the face, get maced by riot police, or spend a couple days in jail) that it will require to really cause change. Sunday’s lackluster performance is evidence of this. Did the Egyptian reform movement overplay its hand with May 4th?.. Splash is skeptical about the momentum/reach of the reform movement, and argues that the Mubarak regime is stronger than it is often portrayed in the West. And unless the general population starts becoming more politically active, the regime will be able to prevail.

What say you Mr. Egypt?