The Search of origin… who/what is the source of Egypt’s Youth anger and frustration?

Ever since the buildup of the uprising in Egypt, one can identify a consistent attempt by the counter-revolutionary forces to represent those angry citizens (especially youth) as a minority who only exist in virtual reality. Whenever those angry citizens shows their discontent over Facebook, Twitter or any social media outlet, whether before the anger has moved to the streets or even after, conservative forces tend to ridicule their opinion and negate their weight in reality.

This understanding of those angry citizens was also re-enforced by elections results, where their voices never managed to reach power or win in any elections post 2011.

However, what those forces fail to grasp, is that such a limited understanding and creation of this fake divide of virtual vs non virtual realities is what is blinding the different ruling regimes to date to foresee the possibilities of ruptures. They insist on seeing the interactions on social media as something distinct and separate from interactions happening on the streets.

What startles the regime more is that even when it realizes the crossing realities and its role in shaping political subjectivity, it fails to grasp its dynamics. On January 28th 2011, the government shut down the internet, thinking that it will weaken the mobilization and yet it failed.

Later, they kept trying to look for the sources of knowledge or the origin of these new ideas in order to clamp down on them. They keep trying to identify key figures or Facebook group admins or key bloggers failing to realize the fluidity and horizontality of these spaces of which no one can control. In brief, the regime insist on seeing those angry citizens as part of one singular identity rather than rhizomes connected through multiple different assemblages.

Recently, the regime has started to engage with these new mediums creating their own Facebook pages, twitter accounts, thinking that they can hijack these spaces or counter a dominant narrative. President Sisi, even threatened implicitly few days ago that he can crack down on the internet using two military battalions and this medium will be done. All indicators of how short-sighted and incapable the different regimes are in seeing the dynamics and fluidity of these spaces; which even if cracked down on, can and will develop in other forms. More importantly, they fail to realize that the impacts of these mediums can never be undone.

Indeed, sometimes I have doubts about whether technology actually opens up possibilities of identities and assemblages or it rather reinforce isolation and one sided promotion of ideas and views. I keep looking at how many people get more locked in their opinions especially when they increase their number of followers in any of the different social media outlets. I also see many of the older generation impressively capable of not listening or shutting down from opposing views. However, looking deeper at Egypt, one keeps seeing how technology offered endless opportunities of identities, ideas and political subjectivity being shaped by vast possibilities of assemblages. One can also see, that even with these ego building or resistance to new ideas, influence and interaction do happen whether voluntarily or not.

These regimes should realize how they have lost this battle of technology a very long time ago. Maybe Gibran can inspire them to sanity for he says:

‘You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,

Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams’.

Bunge la Mwananchi, the people’s parliament, where prefiguration comes to life…

Bunge La Mwananchi or the people’s Parliament in Kenya is a living proof of pre-figurative politics. Gacheke Gachici, member of Bunge La Mwananchi in his talk about the parliament showed how adamant they were about living ‘now’ the reality they want to see in the future. From further readings, I have learned that the people’s parliament came to being as a result of political opening in the early 90s which ended one party rule and reinstated multi-party politics. Such opening encouraged movements to surface and activists disenchanted with the deteriorating economic conditions and the expansion of neo-liberal policies to come together to fight for social justice. However, the interesting part was how the people’ parliament (originally launched under the name ‘kafiri’ movement) didn’t intend to address the state or capitalize on this political opening to engage with formal politics. The intent from the beginning was to reject and challenge how power operates in the country. The political opening was seen as an opportunity to reclaim public space and create an open platform for political education on colonial history, Kenyan liberation movements and social/economic rights, yet from a critical lens to existing/dominant discourses. It was an intent endeavor to overhaul existing power structures refusing to engage within its borders.

As a prefigurative process, the end goal wasn’t clear or pre-determined and kept evolving. The refusal grew into the people’s parliament with several chapters in different cities where all people were invited to participate irrespective of tribe, gender, social class or religion to discuss their current realities, question the immutability of these realities and think of ways to challenge them. Ironically, the more political opening took place, the more determination the people’ parliament had for reclaiming their space and living their reality now away from formal establishment. Gacheke explained it by the failure of the seemingly reformist National Rainbow Coalition Kenya (NARC) to create any drastic change after coming to power in 2003. According to the movement, the coalition was coopted by the system where they faced allegations of corruption, engaged in patronage politics and failed to create any change.

As prefiguration would inform us, this resistance to engage within the formal establishment create its own challenges. For instance, the People’ parliament faces funding challenges especially when they insist rightfully on staying away from what the movement call “the euro dollar chaser” industry.  Also, they face attempts of cooptation or as power always tends to centralize, some of its members wanted to claim leadership and direct the people’s parliament hierarchically. Yet, prefiguration as a form of politics seemed capable to address some of these challenges. Gacheke mentioned for instance how people resisted any attempt to challenge the horizontality of the space by simply moving away from any leader who would want to claim authority and automatically restarting their discussions on equal basis.

In brief, the people’ parliament is an inspiring experience to show how people can build commitment to a different process that aims to change the rules of the game rather than remain stuck in pre-structured frameworks and playgrounds of exclusions. Such driving force and commitment made me undoubtedly wonder whether in Egypt, revolutionary groups rushed the process of Tahrir square thinking they had to engage with old parameters of politics. This wondering even gets stronger when the people’s parliament tells us, you can also maintain your process while strategically and selectively join forces with sympathetic movements and parties who are engaged in formal politics, overcoming this risk of being an ‘irrelevant utopia’.