“The New Weapon Of Choice Is The Broom”: “Yesterday, I Was A Demonstrator. Today, I Build Egypt”

Cleaning up Tahrir Square, the day after Mubarak steps down

Jubilation in Tahrir at Mubarak's resignation

Supporters that, I'm going to hazard a guess, are not in Egypt

"Mini-state of the people's revolution"

Honoring the dead

I could go on and on about this (and already have, to my poor friends here in Cleveland), and I swear I’ll get back to stuff closer to home soon, but wanted at least something about the awesomeness we were lucky enough to bear witness to on Friday:

  • So of course, what comes after this is extremely important.  We’ve seen plenty of revolutions and great moments that, suffered setbacks and erosion of hard-won gains by people’s movements.  On my mind in particular are Russia and Eastern Europe post-USSR, South Africa after apartheid (Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine goes into a lot of detail about the derailing of Eastern European and South African revolutionary momentum in particular), the pushback in the US against the gains of the various liberation movements of the 60s, the pushback by the right and the stalling by the left in the US after the transformative moment of Barack Obama’s election (obviously I’ve still got hope this revolution will work out), the souring of various Latin American socialist movements (and sometimes succumbing to rightist undermining), and pretty much the souring of almost all the major socialist movements of the 20th century.  The first battle has been won, but the people will need to continue to demand and struggle for democracy, despite whatever calls for ‘stability’ will continue to be issued.  And by some accounts, it looks like they’re planning a pretty consistent and continuous presence and voice.  I’m warily hopeful that the movement of Tahrir (and across the country) continues to inform the transition to structures that can fit the spirit unleashed.
  • All that caveat-ing aside, and beyond all the implications and significances of this moment, I’m just so incredibly happy to see the looks on the faces of the people of Egypt as they savor this.  I’m so incredibly moved and uplifted by the quotes and voices I am lucky enough to read and hear.  I am also totally amped by the example that Egypt set for the world to follow.  The quote that titles this post comes from the cousin of one of the reporters who had been covering the revolution, as he joined thousands of others to clean up Tahrir square the day after Mubarak’s resignation.  But that’s just one example of the reports that are coming out of the spontaneous community creation, of people taking basic civic and infrastructural community needs into their own hands on a volunteer basis- block clubs defending neighborhoods and homes against looters and government-supported rioters, doctors volunteering their time for medical care, unionists striking across the country to improve work conditions, volunteers directing traffic and managing waste in the square.  In short, people doing for themselves what they had always been told had to be provided for them.  It really is the purest manifestation I can think of of the commons, of Rebecca Solnit’s ‘shadow government of kindness‘ and ‘iceberg economy’ just snatching the mic and taking center stage, saying “I was here all along, and this is what I can do”.  The BBC has an amazing map of Tahrir Square that shows the community they built.  I’ve read numerous times that the revolution has been ‘intentionally leaderless’, so as to remain as pure and representative an articulation of the people’s, all the people’s (Muslim, and Christian, all of us Egyptian- here’s me praying that pluralism remains a part of the vision of this movement) will as possible.  Hopefully this will also ensure that the movement manages to transform not only the government and state structures, but the structures of oppositional parties like the Muslim Brotherhood (the linked piece was really helpful to putting them in perspective).  And of course, I’m just humbled by the non-violent discipline of the movement across the country- it really couldn’t be a better rebuttal to the idea that force and over-militarization is the key to a secure world.  All in all, it’s what the people created in Tahrir, more than the dictator they ousted in the Presidential Palace, that is to me the most amazing legacy and example that they’ve set (though dictator-defeating milestones rule).
  • I find a renewed faith, a rejuvenation of the hopeful place I was in two years ago, in the suddenness with which this happened.  A couple months ago, we had a different idea of what was possible here (though of course there were some who saw it coming and were laying the groundwork).  But it’s inspiring to think that really at any moment these shifts can happen.  The powers that we currently struggle under may seem never ending, but they just aren’t.  It’s a matter of persistence, innovation, and freaking faith.  We’re lay the groundwork now, during the lulls (and I think it’s safe to say- turning for a second to the somewhat less inspiring national atmosphere we find at home as the poor are abandoned, meager advances are under attack, women, people of color, immigrants and the young see their rights threatened, and prospects for returning to the ecstatic movement state of late-2008 seem dim- that we’re in a lull), for these world-changing events, that truly do change everything.  We need to be ready, and we need to hasten that day for ourselves.  As Bill McKibben puts it, I hope the seemingly unshakable powers that be here in the US (be they fossil fuel companies, pharmaceutical and insurance companies, big banks, or whomever) feel the challenges coming.  If it can happen to Mubarak, it can happen to anyone.
  • This reminds me (despite not having lived through it) of the people’s pan-regionalism of the early communist and socialist revolutions, and of the eruptions of revolutionary fervor in Latin America, as we look at other countries testing the limits.  There’s an ‘all of humanity in this together’ vibe that I hope can be sustained.  This will hopefully not be confined to Egypt, and we’ll get to see others strengthen the worldwide impact of this movement (and hopefully catch some of the spirit ourselves).  Already there are protests going on in Algeria and Yemen and across the Arab world (and rumors of renewed protest in Tehran).  Also across the Arab world we’re seeing governments try and figure out how to pre-empt such movements in their own countries by granting concessions- whether cash, stimulus, long-denied rights and freedoms, or the dissolution of hated, illegitimate, or ineffective governing bodies (see: Jordan, Palestine)- in other words, improving the welfare and situation of their constituents.  Hopefully these concessions and protests will be a beginning and not an ending for the far-flung movements.  It will remain to be seen if they can be as adamant and uncompromising as Egypt (and even if Egypt can remain as adamant and uncompromising as it has been).  It does go to show that that’s the way to people’s power- demanding what you want and organizing the hell out of yourself.
  • Finally, while I know that revolutions have happened without the internet, I think it can’t be discounted that the suddenness of the movement, its prodigious spread, and the ability of this movement to maintain a non-aligned character (that is, it wasn’t the Muslim Brotherhood’s revolution, it wasn’t the Nasserites’ revolution, it wasn’t El Baradei’s revolution- it had to be all of them including, in the words of one commenter, those “whose relation to politics and activism used to be to read the story in the newspaper and discuss it over lunch or dinner“) definitely had something to do with the fact that people had tools that facilitated the elevation of thousands of voices, that allowed the organization of thousands of newly politicized people.  As with many aspects of the Egyptian revolution, I’m struck by parallels to the election of Barack Obama, in which millions were mobilized not by the internet, but with the internet as a community facilitator.  Many of those millions (like myself), were folks who had not, up until then, been ‘political’.  It’s the engagement of those people that made it different, it’s the meaning that was attached to it when it went beyond the normal players.  The internet, by connecting ordinary people long enough for them to leave their living rooms to meet each other, was a part of that.
  • With all that said, here are some of the sweetest tweets and testimonials I’ve seen so far.  I hope you get as much out of them as I do:
  • From Egyptocracy: “When our friends got kidnapped, we remained peaceful. When our friends got killed, we remained peaceful. 2/3 #Egypt#Jan25#Tahrir#Mubarak
  • From sharifkouddous: “I bump into my cousin, Ismail Naguib, on Kasr El Nile bridge. He says: “the new weapon of choice is the broom” #Tahrir#Egypt” and “Incredible how many are coming in to clean #Tahrir. People jubilant, hopeful. This revolution continues to amaze me. #Egypt
  • From arabist: “#Egypt folks, support #Algeria next: follow @weddady @motazaline @themoornextdoor @12fevrier @opine16 @Algerian_Dude @fbess and #12feb
  • From SultanAlQassemi: “Hats off to Egyptians, Al Jazeera is showing images of doctors, university students & civilians from all walks of life cleaning the streets.” and “Al Hurra: Protesters at Meydan Tahrir say they will continue protesting until their “Reform Document” is approved”
  • From shadihamid: “Love the signs in tahrir sq: ‘yesterday I was demonstrator. Today I build Egypt’ #jan25
  • Via ColorLines:
  • And Wael Ghonim rules (can’t find a way of embedding this video in the post, but seriously, follow that link)- as a person of privilege, I find his example moving, inspiring, and illuminating.  This is how folks like us can help, and should remember to stay humble.

Let me know if you find other articles, accounts, or testimonials that I should include.  I’d love to add to this with other findings, and I really can’t get enough.  I see this as a treasure-trove to turn back to when times get rough and I need to remember that this sort of thing can happen.


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Filed under Democracy, Egypt, Faith, Foreign Policy, Movements, Solidarity, Spirituality

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