Jack Shenker writes: The apartment blocks on my street in downtown Cairo have accommodated many cycles of Egypt’s political tumult in the past 18 months.
A stone’s throw from Tahrir Square, they have been enveloped in teargas, pockmarked by Molotov cocktails, pressed into use as urban barricades by both revolutionaries and pro-Mubarak militias, and provided the backdrop for some of the post-Mubarak military generals’ most violent assaults on the citizens they swore to protect. They gaze over the gardens of the Egyptian Museum – a regular home for one of the army’s pop-up torture and detention centres where those still daring to rally for meaningful change have been brutally acquainted with the realities of a junta-curated “transition” to democratic rule.
This month, my buildings’ latest revolutionary iteration was unveiled – two giant billboards sporting beaming mugshots of Ahmed Shafiq: former Mubarak-era prime minister, current presidential candidate and feloul (“regime remnant”) figurehead par excellence. The elections campaign’s last batch of polls suggests Shafiq could emerge triumphant, sounding what many in the media would describe as the final death knell to the “liberal revolutionaries” of Tahrir who have been steadily battered – by guns at the hands of the state security forces, and by public delegitimisation at the hands of the state media – since those heady images of collective protest conquered global TV screens.
If Shafiq fails to win, the argument goes, then the similarly regime-tarnished former foreign minister Amr Moussa may squeak over the line, or the victor may emerge from one of the two Islamist camps consisting of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Mursi and a Brotherhood breakaway alternative, Abdel Munim Aboul Fotouh. Any of the above options are said to be a sad body-blow to the spirit of Tahrir, but the very existence of a democratic electoral process is itself trumpeted as a conclusive success for the revolution.
There are a million empirical holes that could be picked in this chronicle – the only results we have so far (from Egyptians voting abroad) put Moussa and Shafiq in fourth and fifth places respectively, while the lazy insistence of characterising Aboul Fotouh as an unreconstructed Islamist (and hence automatically anti-Tahrir) bears little relation to the substance of his support on the ground. But away from the specifics, is this general evaluation even the best way of conceptualising the revolution? Or is the battle for the presidency merely the institutional tip of a far deeper revolutionary iceberg, just one site of contest and dissent among many? [Continue reading…]