“Women Making Democracy”: Tahrir Comes to Harvard Square

Cambridge, MA, Friday, March 30, 2012— Activists, journalists, and a variety of academics are gathered today at The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University to examine and discuss the role of women in the uprisings and democratization efforts that have dominated the Arab world for over a year. “Women Making Democracy” will examine and analyze women’s experiences of the Arab revolutions—and compare them to those of women in similar moments in history, from Eastern Europe to South Africa and Latin American.

Live Streaming begins at 8:45 a.m. You can follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #RadCon.

On Monday, Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies hosted a Live Demonstration of Calligraffiti with Tunisian Street Artist eL Seed, integrating Arabic calligraphic traditions and themes of political change.

Throughout the week, and still on exhibit through 5:00 p.m. today is Roaming Revolution: Unfolding the Narratives of a Square, depicting the transformation of Tahrir Square into a civic space for political expression, resistance and organization, and artistic endeavors. The iconic symbol of the revolution is represented by a model of Tahrir. Read more here, and enjoy these images from the exhibit’s walls:

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Egypt: Compromise or a Second Wave of Revolution?

RT.com (Russian Today, TV Network in English) devoted some airtime to Egypt today under the title, “Permanent Revolution: Resistance lives among disillusioned Egyptians.”

Among the disillusioned interviewed by the network was Khaled Telema, an activist with the Coalition of the Youth Revolution:

We weren’t against Mubarak as a person; we were against the whole system, against oppression and injustice. Although the SCAF [the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces] said they were pro-revolution, their actions show they’re applying the same techniques used by him [Mubarak].

As reported by Human Rights Watch in September of 2011, in roughly 8 months of military rule, over 12,000 Egyptians had already faced military tribunals, a distant record against Mubarak’s 30-year ruling. Speaking to RT, journalist and blogger Hossam el-Hamalawy said that more than 13,000 Egyptians have been processed through military courts in the last year, including labor strikers–formerly tried in ordinary courts–and the rubber bullets that dispersed demonstrators in the past have been replaced by live ammunition.

Questioned on the controversy surrounding the mostly-Islamist composition of the panel charged with drafting Egypt’s constitution, Dr. Jamal Sultan of the Al-Ahram Center of Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, warned that this lack of representation of other views would intensify political struggle and instability. However, when pressed about the West’s expectations for Egypt’s transition to democracy versus the prospect of an Islamic state ruled by Sharia law, Dr. Sultan defined the “name of the game” as being about “governance and stability”–not about human rights:

I believe that if the Islamist government in Egypt will be able to provide governance and stability and won’t be a cause for instability at the regional level […] perhaps the West will at least remain silent if there are things that they might not like, in terms of civil liberties or human rights in the country.

Clearly the West has remained silent before, for decades at a time. But Dr. Sultan goes further:

The problem with the Mubarak regime was that it wasn’t effective in providing for this stability, and I think that if an Islamist government would do it, I think the West would live with that.

Put this way, Dr. Sultan himself appears ready to “live with that,” which would ring contrary to his warnings about a one-world-view constitution.

But while some might hope for stability at any cost, others, such political activist Nahla Salem (also interviewed by RT), see the growing compromises as fuel for a “second wave of the revolution”:

The economic situation is really getting worse, and I believe [the] people who are suffering nowadays, because they can’t afford to feed their families they are going to lead […] a second wave of the revolution, but it’s going to be really, really aggressive, and really, really violent and bloody.”

Unfortunately for Egypt’s poor, revolutions don’t have an history of improving economic conditions for everyday citizens.

Egypt’s Elections: Owning the Revolution

Egyptians young and old, educated or illiterate—and unprecedented numbers of women—were early to rise and quick to line outside polling stations to participate in the first free elections in 30 years, nine months after the ousting of Hosni Mubarak.

Women voters outside a polling station in Alexandria. Photo by Evan Hill/AlJazeera

News and analysis of Egypt’s elections have been largely about looming dangers and uncertainties facing the country, the violence and divisions of recent weeks, and the worries and skepticism of the International Community.

But for Egyptians, Tunisians, and anyone who has ever experienced life under a dictatorship, the site of people lining up to vote is cause for jubilation and the most reassuring sign that the revolution is working.

Some Egyptian activists chose to boycott the election, partly because they feel the same old guard is in charge of the process—“a circus,” one Egyptian blogger and activist called it (Al Jazeera). A complicated and staggered election system (Reuters), hundreds of parliamentary seats to fill, thousands of unknown candidates, and even the predictability of results (CFR), are all less than ideal circumstances. But Egyptian voters deserve their day of pride and jubilation. Considering voter turnout, and the remarkable engagement of youth and women voters, they also deserve to be hopeful and be trusted with their future.

The New Arab Revolt, an e-book published by the Council of Foreign Relations in May of this year, begins with a reference toPortugal’s 1974 “carnation revolution,” a bloodless military coup that ended 48 years of fascist ruling. I remember walking to the market after school that day in April and wondering about the cheers in the distance. Soldiers stood on armored cars circling the market, while vendors and shoppers clapped, cheered, and threw flowers. In those days, the country had but two state-run TV channels which aired only in the afternoon and evening. It was mostly word-of-mouth that spread news of the revolution, and with such limited means of speech, it’s hard to imagine how the people, instead of the military, could have overthrown the regime. Tumultuous years of political and social upheaval would follow, but the democratic process was nonetheless established.

Nearly a year ago, one young Tunisian man—Mohamed Bouazizi—could not have imagined the revolutions his tragic protest would spark across the Middle East(see this interactive timeline at The Guardian). The human cost of these movements must be present to individual countries and the International Community, as they choose their place in this new world order. But youth, their aspirations and demands, have been at heart and helm of these bold revolutions. Media and technology have played a powerful role in mobilizing protesters and exposing authoritarian rulers and regimes. Political consciousness and solidarity have given shape and strength to civil societies, making it increasingly difficult for recalcitrant establishments to go unchallenged.

And that’s enough to feel hopeful for Egyptians as they go to the polls.

[Note: This post appeared in the Huffington Post]

“The strength of the argument” NOT “the status of the speaker”

Tracing the networked “global public sphere” exemplified in Occupy-Wall-Street to the Greek agora–where male citizens gathered to debate ideas– Faizullah Jan, American University doctoral student, looks at the evolution of public opinion expression and the interaction between state and society.

“Without a functioning public sphere the state’s interaction with the public is reduced to the relatively brief periods surrounding elections.  Though election participation is a a hallmark of representative democracy, without a functioning public sphere, the government, corporations, and interest groups remain unaccountable to the people.”

Full article: “Understanding Public Sphere in a Networked Society,” guest post on Matthew Nisbet’s “Age of Engagement” at Big Think