Egypt: Is the revolution being co-opted?

I take my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
- The Who, Won't Get Fooled Again


Were this an ad, the catchphrase would be "the sound of a new generation". A group of seven young January 25 revolutionaries, including Wael "Google Gandhi" Ghonim, met two members of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, in what The Arabist blog identified as "the Facebook kids meets the generals", or Generation Y meets the Ancien Regime (which happens to be the new regime as well ...)

The result, expressing the views of Ghonin and Amr Salama, was initially posted in - what else - the notorious We Are All Khaled Said Facebook page, in Arabic, and then widely circulated in English.

The Egyptian army does seem to be trying to engage in good public relations, listening more than they speak. Anyway, the new generation could not pass up the opportunity to tell Major General Mahmoud Hijazi and Major General Abdel Fattah to overhaul their communications strategy - like getting rid of their oh so 1970s communique fetish.

Ghonin and Salama, by their own admission, took the military's words at face value. It's too early to tell if they are just naive. The Supreme Council is theoretically in favor of a civilian government - while keeping the current Mubarakism cabinet intact, at least for the moment.

They promised a constitutional committee - made up of distinguished jurists - and formed during the next 10 days to identify the articles of the constitution that should be revised. Then comes a new draft. And then the icing on the cake; a new constitution voted on in a referendum to be held in a breakneck pace of two months.

The army is also in favor of the formation of new political parties, and will supervise a campaign to raise 100 billion Egyptian pounds (about US$17 billion) in donations to "rebuild the country".

The army's charm offensive still leaves plenty of important unanswered questions - such as their intent of seriously investigating and prosecuting massive corruption. And most of all how do they intend to deal with the working classes. Strikes are in practice forbidden.

The great majority of those who want change in Egypt don't have Facebook accounts, and they don't tweet either. They want at least a decent salary, to begin with. And if nothing moves, journalists, ambulance drivers, police officers, transportation workers, they will definitely keep on striking.

Red alert

There may be a danger at this stage that the (dwindling) Egyptian middle class - to which many of the young revolutionaries belong - may privilege "stability", thus relaxing their concentration and mobilization over the past three weeks. The self-appointed "Committee of the Wise Men", for instance, is trying hard to hijack all the hard work propelled by the young revolutionaries by supporting just a minor "reform" of the constitution.

A clash with the working classes - and the Egyptian countryside - may be looming. The Facebook kids are not exactly wily politicians. What needs to be extracted now is institutionalized commitments from the military junta, such as freedom of the press starting now, and the abolition of the emergency laws. For that the Facebook kids have to learn to negotiate - from a position of high moral authority conferred by the street.

As much as Uncle Marx - a revolution specialist - remarked that the Paris Commune failed because it did not march on Versailles, giving time for the counter-revolution to prepare their counter-offensive, the young Egyptian revolutionaries have to seize the momentum and keep up the pressure.

The role of the Egyptian army so far has been ambiguous - to say the least; and that includes documented cases of torture by military intelligence. Not to mention their latest - banning national and foreign media from broadcasting from Tahrir Square. Moreover al-Arabiyyah TV - a mouthpiece of the House of Saud - reported that they have offered the Ministry of Information to Imad Ad-Din Adib, someone who helped launch former president Hosni Mubarak's last presidential campaign and who is also close to the House of Saud.

It's too early to tell whether the military junta now in power will really deliver on this new local remix of the Washington mantra - "orderly transition" - or will run rings around the street and perpetuate itself in power by wearing better suits, dividing the opposition and receiving lavish "gifts" from the usual suspects, Washington, Tel Aviv and Riyadh.

As Dr Aida Seif El-Dawla, from the Nadeem Center for Victims of Torture in Cairo has told the US-based Institute for Public Accuracy, "We still have the same cabinet appointed by Mubarak. The emergency state is still enforced. Old detainees are still in detention and new ones since the 25th of January remain missing. There is no public apology for the killings."
Everyone should be on maximum alert. Otherwise one of these days even Nosferatu - Omar "Sheikh al-Torture" Suleiman - may rise again from the dead.

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