Monday, March 19, 2012

A Nation on Hold

The week is now finished. I was able to interview all of our youth who we have followed now for a full year. There is relatively little to report - not that they didn't have much to say, but that the narrative is common. All are disappointed with the state of the revolution, and all attribute it to the behavior of the SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces). Any hope that they had that SCAF would be a fair and non-intrusive custodial power dissipated long ago.

The trigger was also common, reinforcing a core theme that has emerged throughout the project; namely, that invasive, abusive, and violent treatment by authorities ignites an indignation that propels to rejection of the authority. Perhaps the one clear illustration of growth from the revolution is that these violations of basic dignity - by all reports endemic to many decades of authoritarian rule - are no longer swallowed by the people. We will study for a long time what the complex formula was for the timing of this foundational transformation from tolerating oppression to defiantly rejecting it one year ago. But, that complexity relative to timing aside, the impetus was simple and clear: enough of the violent, abusive treatment.

Indeed, virtually every "explosion" of unrest since the January 25th commencement of widespread protest that lead to full-scale revolution has followed directly on the heels of such mistreatment. Outstanding examples of this include: the killing of hundreds of protesters on January 28th; the violent clearing of the 3-week long Tahrir Square sit-in at the end of July; the literal crushing of bodies under the treads of tanks during the Maspero protest of October; and, again, in November, the violent clearing of Tahrir Square of a small number of families of those slain in January.

That said, while such abuse has reliably maintained the flame of the revolution, progressively it has also lead to the conviction that the SCAF cannot be trusted, and, indeed, behaves no differently than the regime it was assigned to replace. This disappointment fuels much of the current despair, and resulting withdrawal from active protest. It feels from the outside as a sense of defeat. Some youth would be comfortable with that characterization - indeed, claiming that life is no better than it was before the revolution (economically, but more damning, the continued control of insensitive "leaders"). Others would be more tentative in making a conclusive determination, but every one of them - literally - described thmselves as depressed.

It is a depression, it seems, however, that is transitory. For there is also a sense of grudging anticipation and dim hope for the coming presidential election. Youth do not appear to have become disengaged from the overall process; just exhausted from the constant, unsuccessful battles; knowing that the process (far as it is from their ideal) is moving forward and the best they can hope for is a decent leader to be elected. Interestingly, much seems to be invested in the hope of what an individual president can do.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Free and Clear

Just arrived Cairo for the next (4th) round of interviews. In the year I've been coming this is the first visit where Tahrir Square is functioning as normal: a main traffic intersection. There are some token tents in the center of the roundabout, but life feels eerily . . . normal?

Walking Mohammed Mahmoud street last night with Aly was itself a strange experience. He identified the spot where he'd been shot and relived the moment. It all feels so out of context, as the street - recently an intense battle ground - was non-distinct, with foot and vehicle traffic proceeding as it does on any avenue.

It's too early to tell what the mood is like here, but I sense glimpses of fatigue and forward looking. The few youths I've been able to talk to thus far seem spent, but ready for whatever comes next. The local paper is full of news on the coming presidential election (May 23, 24).