The clothes’ new emperor?

He changed his clothes.

Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, a well-preserved 75, appeared downtown on Monday wearing a civilian suit rather than his military uniform. State TV gave him the glowing coverage you might expect for, say, a presidential incumbent seeking re-election. You can read in on the whole “incident” here and view a video here.
So for the last two days the Photoshoppers have been having a field (marshal) day; my Facebook feed has been buzzing with hilarious caricatures like these, which I reproduce for the convenience of those of you not on Facebook.  This one has him saying, essentially, “Don’t like the civil/ian? Let’s make it Islamic!”:

(from indefatigable Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff)

and best of all, this, which shows Egyptians all their electoral options (#s 7 and 8 allude to the “workers” and “farmers” who play a big role in politics, since by SCAF decree members of these groups must make up half of all party lists):

Not everything is about costume politics here, but sometimes you wouldn’t know it.  Today’s newspapers also ran a photo of the U.S. Ambassador to Egypt, Anne Patterson, wearing a huge scarf wrapped around her head as she endured a prickly meeting with the Grand Shaykh of Al-Azhar, Ahmed El-Tayeb.

You will find quite a few photos from this series with a a Google image search for  “آن باترسون الأزهر حجاب ”  But curiously, searching for any English variant I can think of, like “anne patterson egypt azhar hijab [or higab],” turns up nothing. Why – is the English-language press more focused on the substance of the meeting?  (But the costumes were the substance.) Or just shy about showing their ambassador in a position that could be construed as disempowering?  Donning the headscarf had been El-Tayeb’s precondition for the meeting.


The people wants… its chairs back!

On the way home tonight we saw a very small demo on Mohamed Sabri Abou Alam Street just off Talaat Harb Square.  Maybe fifty peaceful protesters, guarded by not very many red-bereted military police. They were chanting, among other things: “The people want the downfall of the Field Marshal.”  Really, at eleven o’clock on a Wednesday night, that’s what they want?
Apparently, according to some friends of my friend whom we ran into at the scene, the military had picked this fight. Military police had inexplicably arrived at the Borsa pedestrian area and started clearing chairs out of its open-air cafes, making some spurious argument about it being too crowded.  This despite the fact that the Borsa area has been pedestrian for years (it’s actually a really nice area), and also that the city is full of other spontaneous cafes and fruit stands etc. that really do tie up traffic and call out for enforcement.  As people are tweeting now (do I know these things?), there was also a soccer match on.  So the military successfully roused people who had wanted nothing more tonight than to drink their tea and watch their football, and got them to stand up and demonstrate.  Well, duh, when you take away their chairs.  (My friends said Borsa was the one part of the city where cafes had stayed open even during the revolution. As though nothing was happening.)
As we walked by Borsa on our way to Midan Falaki to catch me a cab we saw the cafes open again: sheesha, tea, plastic chairs and little tables in full swing. As though nothing had happened.
(Later, after we left, more military police would arrive; the lights would go out in Talaat Harb square; a few protesters would head to Tahrir. All this was after I was home in my pajamas.)
Update next morning: even sports talk shows on the radio are touching on the event: why close down these cafes in particular? Why in the middle of a match and not wait till it’s over? why not publicize the new “rules” about public chair-positioning in the newspapers and on TV, rather than leading with the enforcement?

The Islamists talk Turkey

While I was delightfully off-grid in Wales last weekend (where the only twitter was from the birds in the apple orchard), lots of interesting stuff probably happened here. You can read about it elsewhere. We haven’t talked about last week’s news yet.

So Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyep Erdogan and his headscarved wife Emine paid a visit to Cairo, sort of a victory lap to celebrate Turkey’s new status as a leader in the region.  On my way to the airport I saw the billboards — didn’t get a photo, but found one online.  They said, somewhat unimaginatively: “Together, one hand for the sake of the future.”  (As my friend Hazem noted, this “one hand” business is getting rather overused. The people and the army — one hand. Christians and Muslims — one hand.  Now Egypt and Turkey — one hand.  Do we even know where that hand has been?)

Erdogan’s authoritarian tendencies are starting to worry my Turkish friends, but never mind. The Egyptian papers duly reported on his spouse visiting a children’s cancer hospital and even noted the increasing popularity of the Turkish-style headscarf at hijab fashion shows in the region.  He got quite a hero’s welcome here. (As one Egyptian had tweeted, in Arabic, upon Turkey’s expulsion of the Israeli ambassador: “The world really is round! You make a wish in Giza, and it comes true in Ankara.”)

But Erdogan surprised some of his Egyptian supporters by emphasizing that he is the leader of a secular Muslim state, not an Islamic one. He called for a secular Egypt, which, as The Jerusalem Post among others gleefully reported, led to a certain cooling of the Muslim Brotherhood’s attitude toward their visiting Turkish brother.

On the “one hand” thing, by the way (I’m interested in how metaphors of embodiment are used to rhetorically bind together a body politic, not to say a Leviathan):

“The Believers, in their mutual love, mercy and compassion, are like one body: if one organ complained, the rest of the body develops a fever.” [Bukhari & Muslim]



And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” (Matthew 5:30)

Mini-officers in Tahrir

In front of the building I used to live in (on which more later!), I came across a family picnicking. Mother, father, two girls, two boys. The girls had black-white-and-red headbands (pretty typical – there was all kinds of face painting and costuming, like at a sports game), but the boys were in full regalia. What’s up with the miniature military uniforms? I’m not sure I understand the semiotics here.

Their father was very proud of them, delighted to have me interrupt their lunch for a photo opportunity, even more delighted to show me the front-page newspaper coverage he and his son had received during the 18 Days.


My friend in Tahrir

My friend works in H.R. for an international company and speaks fluent English. She never gave much of a damn about politics before last January. Then she was in Tahrir almost every day. Her Facebook posts went from English to colloquial Arabic. We met up this afternoon.  I was so happy to see her again, after only communicating online since my last visit in 2008 – she looks great!
(The sticker on her shirt says “civil state” — part of the Dawla Madaneya campaign. I was given one too, though no one for a minute mistook me for an Egyptian.)

And apparently my friend is starting a project to help educate rural Egyptians about political decision-making and electoral rights. Didn’t catch all the details this time (as she hurriedly explained them to the representative of a group of fellaheen, peasants or farmers, who had come to the square to counter the government’s attempt to coopt them by creating a new holiday and holding an official Farmers’ Day celebration) but I’ll keep you posted

More from Tahrir

Protesters slip easily into what the Egyptian Gazette called “the Friday routine” of demonstrating.

People kept cool however they could, some putting newspapers on their heads. (A whole range of different newspapers, from Al-Sha3b to Al-Masry al-Youm.)

The Central Security forces occupying the “bowl” at the center of the square and the military vehicles in the surrounding streets had disappeared at midnight on Thursday; the only sign of government presence were some ambulances. Since it has been reported (or at least rumored) that Egyptian security forces have used ambulances to hide weapons to give to thugs to use against the demonstrators, this did not arouse a lot of confidence.
Ambulance at Tahrir
But when I was there no one was nervous either. The atmosphere was like a block party, with friends greeting each other happily (many of these friendships seem to have begun in Tahrir in the first place), vendors selling water and snacks as well as all sorts of souvenirs, and people of different ages and social classes (notably the better-dressed “civil state” demonstrators and the rowdier Ahly crew) greeting each other with great courtesy: Munawwareen!
Some slogans against America and Israel, notably rare (though not absent) in the original Jan-Feb protests, have begun to surface. Check out the intricate collage this guy made!

And this sign condemns “The Tel Aviv plan” and “the children of Uncle Sam” trying to “sow dissent (fitna) in the Egyptian street.  (I thought only foreigners called it “the Egyptian street” anymore?)

Graffiti: “Egypt will not become another Afghanistan!”

Tahrir Square, Sept 9, 2011

Some photos from Tahrir Square today. I was there in the early afternoon shortly after Friday prayers, long before the unpleasantness with the Israeli embassy that happened later. The group that was the loudest and best organized were the Ahly Ultras, supporters of Al-Ahly soccer club whose `asabiyya (group loyalty, ibn Khaldun’s term) and personal courage, not to say plain thuggery, was essential in winning and holding Tahrir Square during the 18 days.
Ultras at Tahrir
Their big sign appealed for the release of some Ahly supporters detained by the police after scuffles around a match on Tuesday.

Another group of young demonstrators, closer to the main stage (there was only one today) carried pictures of Gamal Abdel Nasser!

Nasserists at Tahrir

Nasserists at Tahrir

This was billed as the rally to “Correct the Course” of the revolution, but there was a feeling of confusion about it, at least at the beginning, and even nostalgia for earlier protests when the goal was completely clear. Some people wanted to talk about election districts or judiciary independence or an end to military trials for civilians, others about whether the state should be religious or “civil” (madani – don’t ever say ‘almani, secular, or they’ll think you mean laique like France!), and others wanted to talk about Israel, a few guys even marching with hammers and chanting “The people/ want/ the demolition of the wall!” (Meaning the protective wall recently built around the Israeli embassy.) There was much disagreement over whether this was relevant to the revolution’s goals at this point or not.
In general these are policy questions, not easily decided by demonstrations. It’s not like the military could announce any particular edict that would “satisfy all the revolution’s demands,” so the demonstration’s end (also in the sense of goal) was unclear. So some people tried to re-focus attention on the revolution’s unifying theme:
Mubarak noose poster
But the abundance, variety, and occasional subtlety of political opinions is a joy to see. People (not just intellectuals) read newspapers, listen to the radio, think, take an active interest in politics. I still think what happened in February was technically a military coup, the SCAF deciding that it would best serve their interests to put Mubarak on a helicopter. If there has been a real revolution, it is happening in people’s minds, their souls, their voices. Perhaps in a few years, a couple of decades, it will translate to a better system of government.
AUC wall graffiti
I didn’t stick around to see what this man was painting, but there was a heated (occasionally humorous) argument about it.
Debate in the streets

Mubarak’s trial resumes

Mubarak’s trial resumed today.  Issandr El Amrani has a good breakdown here of what happened and what’s at stake.  Just reading the newspapers this morning, it’s interesting to see how easily and offhandedly irreverent several papers (Tahrir, Dostur, Al-Masry al-Youm) manage to be toward the Mubaraks.  E.g., calling his sons Alaa and Gamal by their first names, referring to him as “the deposed” (or, “thrown-off” president).

Egypt’s feisty press, somewhat liberated even since 2005, has prepared this political overhaul and seems to be thriving under it.  There is actual news to read, and people are reading it!  (Rather than turning directly to the sports section.)