Musings on a revolution: A teach in on the Egyptian Revolution in brief

By Katherine Fernandez-Blance
Assistant News Editor

‘It’s hard to sleep when there’s a revolution going on,’ appears to be the sentiment echoed by many of us. I probably know equal numbers of people who were glued to their seats watching Al Jazeera’s live streaming that I do students who never bothered to inform themselves about the quick unraveling of the Egyptian revolution.

Luckily, as Queen’s students, we are blessed with the ability to learn and question from some of the greatest thinkers of our university, and we have the choice of whether or not to remain ignorant about the state of global affairs.

Dana Olwan, professor of gender studies and Arabic, took this opportunity to put together a teach-in styled panel on Feb. 17th for students and professors alike to come together and learn about the Egyptian Revolution from six different angles.

“Teach-ins are educational forums, held at times of political need and urgency. They combine academic and activist speakers,” Olwan said. “The first time I attended one was…when people were organizing against the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and I learned a lot.”

Olwan said that she transformed her dining room into an Al Jazeera news headquarters over the past 14 days, and that the turnout at the Teach-in was a testament to how much our community sees itself as part of a larger society and world at large.

“This is the first event I’ve ever organized where people say their coming on Facebook and actually show up, this is an important moment,” she said.

The event, held in Chernoff Hall had people cramming into the aisles and standing in the back, unable to find seats at one of the most interesting and well-put together panel discussions I have attended at Queen’s. What follows is a condensed version of the main points of discussion amongst the six panelists.

Mohamed Bayoumi: Introduction to the Revolution’s causes

Mohamed Bayoumi, professor emeritus of electrical and computer engineering began the panel with discussions of the reasons behind what he described as a revolution of massive proportions.

“It is the third major revolution worldwide in terms of numbers, after the French and Russian, but it is the first nonviolent revolution,” Bayoumi said. “It is proving that non-violence can achieve results…it can topple a dictator and get rid that regime.”

Bayoumi outlined what he felt were some of the major grievances Egyptians had suffered with for over 30 years prior to Feb. 11th.

He said that Egypt’s emergency rule which essentially allows the government the right to charge or detain anyone they wish was one problem, which still hasn’t been addressed by the nation’s current military rule.

Rigged elections, curtailed freedoms such as the censorship of the media, and corruption were also areas Bayoumi said caused intense discontent among the Egyptian population.

“[There were screwed priorities] with 1.4 million people working for the police. The money for security was way more than that for health and education,” Bayoumi said, adding that because most of the government had been controlled by business men, the majority of the population had not been properly served by governmental policies.

Bayoumi also criticized Mubarek and his regime for blindly following the American government, and for acting as a proxy nation for other governments to bring prisoners to be tortured.

“The objective of the revolution can be summed up in three words: freedom, dignity and social justice. These are three areas that the current regime has failed miserably at,” Bayoumi said.

Khaled Shaeen: Dates of note

Khaled Shaheen acted as both a moderator of the panel and spoke about the timeline of events leading up to the Egyptian Revolution, as well as the Tunisian Revolution and further uprisings in other areas of the Arab world.

Particular dates of interest were 1996 when Al Jazeera was formed, which Shaheen indicated was a strong shift away from state controlled media, as well as 2003 where the US invasion of Iraq created large anti-war protests throughout Egypt, though Mubarek was viewed as being aligned with US policy.

2004 saw the first protests in Egypt calling an end to Mubarek’s reign, and the next year marked the rise of the Egyptian blogosphere, as well as Egypt’s first multi-party election, which was rigged in Mubarek’s favour.

Shaheen said that the next years saw accelerating protests from labor unions and ordinary citizens, and in June 2010, Egyptian blogger Khaled Saeed was killed, allegedly by Egyptian police. Facebook movements followed, as did the Tunisian Revolution of January 14th.

“Egypt is a young population suffering from a lack of freedom and a lack of economic opportunity,” Shaheen said.

Adnan Hussain: The legacies of the 50s and 60s

Adnan Hussain, professor of Islamic world history spoke next, and said that it was important to realize that the reasons for the revolution extended further than 30 years.

“There are unfinished legacies that are being approached in new and dramatic ways,” Hussain said, referring primarily to the rise of the third world consciousness that occurred during the 1950s and 60s period of decolonization.

Hussain pointed to social and land reform as well as economic development as areas of a social agenda that sparked hope in the newly independent regions.

“The popular mobilizations behind this were very quickly marginalized. It was a top down revolutionary moment that quickly turned into a repressive state,” he said.

Hussain contrasted this era with the present one in which there have been no clear leaders of the Egyptian revolution. He said that the people have realized that they don’t actually need the state, or at least the regime any more. Also unusual is the lack of Islamism in the movement.

“It’s not to say that Egyptian people are any less pious…but the idea that Islam as the discourse for political solution has been resolved as obsolete for political events,” Hussain said.

Ariel Salzmann: Global solidarity for Egypt’s youth

Professor Ariel Salzmann of Islamic and world history spoke about the need for global solidarity with the Egyptian people.

“The eyes of the entire world are looking, this event is not confined to the Middle East,” Salzmann said.

Many of the panelists pointed out that the revolution has been a youth lead movement, and Salzmann said that this coincides with a global underclass.

“They’re looking to a future that doesn’t exist…[the Revolution] has been a coming together…with a youthful face that speaks across the globe,” Salzmann said, adding that it’s important to remember that the strikes post-Revolution have not let up.

“A single spark can light a prairie fire,” Salzmann quoted.

Nasser Saleh: A revolution through Twitter, Facebook and Google

Nasser Saleh, an Egyptian who wrote his master’s thesis on the role if information communication technology and democracy in the Middle East talked on the important role social media played in the Egyptian Revolution.

He displayed examples of Egypt’s state run media blatantly misrepresenting the reality of the revolution. Tahir Square at 9:45pm was shown to be peaceful and beautiful on state run television, meanwhile news coverage on networks like Al Jazeera and the BBC showed the reality of the protests.

Most interestingly, Saleh posed the question of whether a revolution can be tweeted. A Facebook event calling for the revolution on Jan. 25th was created and had almost 100,000 people respond as ‘attending.’

“A Google map was linked to the group to show meeting places all over Egypt, and a Google document was created [to list the necessary logistics] necessary to bring about change,” Saleh said. “After the Revolution, a Google forum was created to discuss the future of Egypt.”

“I don’t know how many revolutions in the world already had a date and time,” Saleh said.

Mohammed Abdou: Where next?

Mohammed Abdou, a phd candidate and self-described Muslim anarchist was notably more critical about the results of the Revolution than his co-panelists.

“It’s not about seizing power, it’s about knowing what to do with the power seized after,” Abodu said, arguing as an anarchist against the nation state.

Abodu was critical of the idea of democracy being implemented in the country, concerned with it existing as a Western import, a concept that he said has clearly been ineffective in our own society. He said that so long as a modern nation state exists within capitalism, equality cannot be achieved.

Abodu posed more questions than answers in his discussion, asking what the political and ethical commitments the post-Revolutionary movement will base itself on.

“I think it’s an incredible time to be alive, but it’s a time to be very cautious as well…there’s a degree of intellectualism that’s somewhat missing from the conversation,” Abodu said. “It’s our responsibility over here to try and establish and assist one another transnationally in our struggles because we seriously do have common struggles, and we can’t do it alone.”

Dana Olwan: Revolutionary fear, and why we need to fight it

Dana Olwan, the final panelist, spoke on fear being the underlying emotion behind the revolution.

“We [in the West] hoped but did not believe that the revolutionaries of Tahir square would succeed,” Olwan began.

She said that fear on the conservative end primarily concerned the impact the revolution would have on Western foreign policy, particularly neoliberal economics, adding that it was important to realize who our fear served and what it served.

“To fear the Egyptian revolution today is to signal to Egyptians that their lives are less important than yours and mine,” Olwan said, calling for solidarity instead of fear of what a couple weeks or months of uncertainty would cause Egypt.

“To fear it is to subscribe to the idea that certain humans are destined to live under tyrannical rule, while others can pursue equality and democracy,” she concluded.

For full audio coverage of this Teach-In, see: http://radio613.wordpress.com/2011/02/18/a-teach-in-on-the-egyptian-revo...

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