Tahrir Square: Occupy’s Obsession & Harsh Reality

Note: This piece was written about two weeks ago but not posted until now., So, the dates are wrong.

The Arab Spring movement that successfully ousted Hosni Mubarak from office in Egypt hasn’t yet resulted in the reforms Egyptians were hoping for, nor has it stopped either the protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square nor continued deadly response. In light of the Occupy Wall Street movement’s deification of the Arab Spring movement, it’s worthwhile looking at how things have worked out in Egypt and a comparison of the two movements.

The news yesterday gives us one brutal example; three days of fighting in Tahrir Square have led to over 10 people dead and hundreds wounded and no clear way out for the Egyptian people, now caught between the ruling military junta that helped force out HJHJosni Mubarak and the once banned Islamist Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party that is now the dominant political force in the country.

As the Mail Online reports…

After being viciously beaten by the ten-strong mob, the woman lies helplessly on the ground as her shirt is ripped from her body and a man kicks her with full force in her exposed chest.

Moments earlier she had been struck countless times in the head and body with metal batons, not content with the brutal beating delivered by his fellow soldier, one man stamped on her head repeatedly.

She feebly tried to shield her head from the relentless blows with her hands.

But she was knocked unconscious in the shameful attack and left lying motionless as the military men mindlessly continued to beat her limp and half-naked body.

This violence was perpetrated by SCAF – Egypt’s Supreme Council of Armed Forces, who took control of Egypt after Mubarak and were supposed to transition Egypt to a democratically elected government. In the realpolitik of power, however, SCAF hasn’t seemed so keen to cede its hold on the country to anyone.

The result in Egypt has been flat-out chaos. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party at first seemed aligned with the military junta that is cracking down on protesters. A recent statement by the Muslim Brotherhood was clearly threatening to anyone – journalist or citizenry – who questioned the recent election victories of the Muslim Brother, calling any discussion ‘heinous plots against the stability and security of Egypt.’

On Sunday night, the violence by SCAF became too much for the FJP and according to the Washington Post,

…a leading member issued the party’s harshest statement yet, marking a fundamental shift in rhetoric and an end to the tense marriage of convenience between the military council and the Islamist party.

Party member Mohamed Beltagy in his statement called the military council a “collaborator with those disrupting Egypt’s security and safety.

“[The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces] tries to create new crises as the time for power transfer to an elected civilian government gets closer.”

The hashtag #NoScaf, for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, was being used on the English-language Twitter feed for the Brotherhood.

This is a 180 degree shift from the events of earlier this year, when in February the Voice of America reported…

Over the past few days, the army has emerged as heroic in the eyes of many Egyptians for not cracking down on the demonstrators.  On Saturday, tanks stayed in their positions throughout central Cairo. People took pictures with soldiers, and children handed them flowers.  
Now, Egyptians are counting on the military to take the country to the next step, and deliver on the promises of a change for the better.

It wasn’t only the Egyptian people who were filled with unwarranted optimism. At the time of Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, President Obama said…

Egyptians have inspired us. They have done so by putting the lie to the idea that justice best gained through violence. For in Egypt, it was the moral force of non-violence, not terrorism, not mindless killing, but non-violence, moral force, that bent the arc of history toward justice once more.

And Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said…

Despite all the (West’s) complicated and satanic designs… a new Middle East is emerging without the Zionist regime and US interference, a place where the arrogant powers will have no place.

Somewhere in between those two statements by Obama and Ahmadinejad is the prevailing view of the Occupy Wall Street – they are inspired by the Egyptians and the rhetoric of non-violence but with open distain for the ‘arrogant power’ of the United States and capitalism, plus a bit of anti-Israeli sentiment tossed in for good measure.

But as much as the entitled elites protesting capitalism want the U.S. Occupy Movement to be Tahrir Square, it’s another world in terms of the brutality and the stakes. The difference is the opposition. As much asthe Occupiers might wish it, Goldman Sachs isn’t a brutal military dictatorship who only backup is an Islamist government, While U.S. liberals decry the ‘brutality’ of U.C. Davis students being pepper sprayed (after being told they would be pepper sprayed), the bodies pile up in Cairo and with no sign of anyone to come in and save the day.

When a couple of activists from the real Tahir Square visited New York in late October, it was almost a comedy skit. A piece in The Atlantic describes the scene…

For Egyptian activists Asmaa Mahfouz and Ahmed Maher, the visit to Zuccotti Park was an exhilarating — if surreal — break from the punishing workload of fighting the military dictatorship back home.
"Where is the tear gas?" Maher asked with a smile, but he seemed genuinely puzzled by the cordial relations between the Wall Streeters and the cops.

Maher and Mahfouz both have been arrested before by Egypt’s notoriously abusive police, and Mahfouz recently was hauled before a military court martial for allegedly insulting her country’s military rulers.

Mahfouz had a question of her own. "Where are the organizers?" she asked. "There must be organizers." No one knew. She ended up chatting at the welcome table with a young man wearing a straw hat.

And later

People asked about the role of women in the Egyptian uprising, the connections between youth and labor movements, and the importance of social media. Some of the questions were well intended but astonishingly vague: "How do you overthrow a system?" one man asked. Maher politely replied, "It’s easier to overthrow a dictator than an entire system." He didn’t belabor the point that the Egyptian revolutionaries, so far as they are concerned, have not yet won; they still are fighting their system.

While the Occupy protesters have mostly gone to warm, safe homes for the holidays, the people of Egypt are still fighting the system…and losing. Now many Egyptians are simply citizens of simply sick and tired of the turmoil and have developed the callused attitude that welcomes any despot who will simply restore order. The Los Angeles Times reports…

Khaled Hassan, who owns a clothing store near Tahrir Square, said the continued unrest was destroying his business. "The country will collapse if we keep going like this," Hassan said. "We can’t live and work anymore. Every day there is a catastrophe and protesters don’t want to stop."

Meanwhile, the smug and safe U.S. occupiers have the testicular fortitude to claim ‘We are Tahrir Square!’ No, they aren’t. And given the desperate reality of Egypt today in winter after the Arab Spring , here’s hoping they never will be.