The Very Definition of Secular

Egypt Secular

Do you remember what the Egyptian revolution was like? In an op-ed on Ahram Online, Hani Shukrallah gives these poignant paragraphs in a long essay considering if Egypt is now less ‘Islamic’.

For background context, he considers the recent call to remove the veil, the emergence of television programs questioning traditional Islamic interpretation, and the renewed effort of the Azhar to assert its prerogative in all such matters. These are reactions to an old paradigm, he believes, that was dealt a blow by the revolution in a peculiar way:

The Egyptian Revolution was profoundly secular, if not secularist. After more than nearly four decades of the inexorable rise of Islamism came a popular revolution of millions that conspicuously made a point of putting religion (with all its uncomfortable impedimenta) on the backburner. Similarly to all the Arab Spring uprisings, Egyptians in motion spoke not of Sharia, rule by what God ordained or the restoration of the Caliphate. As the whole world came to know, the banner of Tahrir was freedom, democracy and social justice. They did not speak of an Islamic nation, but rather reclaimed the flag, redefining Egyptian nationhood as one arising from the fundamental human dignity of its citizens.

It went even further. As if picking up from where the previous popular revolution in their history (the revolution of 1919) had left off, the young men and women of Tahrir and elsewhere around the country took the hitherto stunted notions of citizenship and equality to new and unprecedented heights. Women, veiled or unveiled, were now fully equal to men — their bodies, which for decades had been put at the very heart of the symbolic battle over the nation’s identity, its political, social and cultural makeup, its present and future, were rendered a non-issue. The Egyptian Revolution did not debate the hijab; it ignored it — and in doing so dismantled its very basis, symbolically and practically.

Similarly, Coptic/Muslim Brotherhood was an overriding theme of the Egyptian Revolution. Previously inconceivable images of demonstrators holding aloft the Quran and the Cross, Coptic human shields around Muslims performing their prayers, seemed to roll back, within weeks, decades of effective disenfranchisement of Egypt’s Christian minority, holding Copts hostage to the Islamist/police state contestation, with each side taking a swipe at what had become the country’s preferred whipping boy.

And herein lay a fundamental feature of the Egyptian Revolution (indeed, the whole Arab Spring), which many commentators have failed to grasp. And this is that in neither targeting nor deploying religion, it sidelined it, pushed it out of the political realm, and rendered it politically, ideologically and culturally neutral. It was not anti-Islamic or pro-Islamic; it simply was non-Islamic. Not anti-religious but non-religious.

This is the very definition of secular.

The Egyptian revolution was many things, fueled by many parties with diverse goals. But fundamentally he is right, at least in presentation. All these groups, including the religious ones, largely put forward a secular image if only for pragmatic reasons. It was not named ‘secular’, but acted so.

His is an astute observation in retrospect, however much he longs for it to have been true, or at least, to have continued truly.


MLK for Egyptian Revolutionaries

Translation: Martin Luther King; the Montgomery Story; how 5000 black men found a way to end racial discrimination
Translation: Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story; how 5000 black men found a way to end racial discrimination

A day late, but in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. day in the United States, here is a list of principles to which he had his fellow non-violent activists commit.

I hereby pledge myself—my person and body—to the nonviolent movement. Therefore I will keep the following ten commandments:

1. Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.

2. Remember always that the non—violent movement seeks justice and reconciliation — not victory.

3. Walk and talk in the manner of love, for God is love.

4. Pray daily to be used by God in order that all men might be free.

5. Sacrifice personal wishes in order that all men might be free.

6. Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.

7. Seek to perform regular service for others and for the world.

8. Refrain from the violence of fist, tongue, or heart.

9. Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.

10.Follow the directions of the movement and of the captain on a demonstration.

I sign this pledge, having seriously considered what I do and with the determination and will to persevere.

Let us pass on the first commandment, given the primary makeup of Egyptian revolutionaries as Muslim. Some Christians might argue that without the first, however, those following are devoid of their power and without foundation.

Whatever the merits of this argument, it certainly seems like many could be adopted by anyone. On some counts many Egyptians measure up well. On others, not so much.

The Egyptian revolution was largely peaceful. But not entirely. Many protests witnessed low-level violence such as the throwing of Molotov cocktails. This was front line action, though, and the masses of protesters remained behind.

But of #2: All were focused on justice, but some let the pursuit of victory get in the way. Few prioritized reconciliation.

#3: Love was almost never put forward as a theme. Most large protests were labeled ‘day of rage’ and themes of this sort.

#6: Courtesy was in short supply. Slogans tended to demonize the opponent, and graffiti was often insulting.

#8: Islam has a similar listing. A tradition of Muhammad states that if one sees a wrong that must be put right, he should strive to do so first with his hand, then with his tongue, and then if these are not possible, with his heart. Different schools of interpretation have allowed different levels of violence in this effort, or specified who can take this action under what circumstances. In any case, while most protestors avoided the violence of the hand, violence of the tongue and heart was plentiful.

#10: The Egyptian revolution had no leader, and certainly no commanding and inspiring figure like Martin Luther King. Many have identified this as a reason for the rapid divisions that dissipated its power after the fall of Mubarak.

The issues of the civil rights movement and the January 25 revolution were certainly different. But whereas American evils have largely (though not entirely) been put right and social peace achieved, the ills of Egyptian society and state threaten to continue.

Perhaps if Egypt’s peaceful protesters had adopted the spirit and convictions of MLK and not just his methodology, things would have been different. Then again, perhaps not. Your thoughts on the differences are welcome.


Economic Aid to Egypt

Egypt Economic Aid

Curious about who is funding Egypt these days? American military aid gets all the press, but many have contributed to support Egypt’s economy. Daily News Egypt recently provided a detailed breakdown. Except for deposits made to the central bank, I have not listed loan agreements. In some cases it is not clear if the money has been received already or only pledged. For ease of access, here is a simplified list:

United Arab Emirates

  • $10.125 billion in grants, deposits, fuel shipments, and water and micro-enterprise projects

Saudi Arabia

  • $6.3 billion in grants, deposits, fuel shipments, and petroleum and electricity projects


  • $4 billion in grants, deposits, and fuel shipments

World Bank

  • $934.4 million in electricity, economic, and transportation projects

Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development

  • $412 million in energy projects

Joint European Aid

  • $260.7 million in clean water projects

European Union

  • $236.2 million in educational, economic, and various regional projects


  • $137.2 million in micro-enterprise projects


  • $78.5 million in agricultural projects


  • $24.4 million in economic projects

African Development Bank

  • $2 million in waste management and micro-enterprise projects

and finally…


  • $7.5 billion demanded to be returned from assistance given under the Morsi administration


I suppose there is a fair question: How can anyone in Egypt still be poor?


Friday Prayers for Egypt: Mubarak Verdict

Flag Cross Quran


The judge ended his 200 page judgment with an appeal to you as Ultimate Judge. Perhaps his conscience was pained after avoiding a ruling.

Mubarak was neither convicted nor acquitted, his case dismissed on a technicality. And a similar reasoning let his security generals off the hook. Since no officers were found guilty in the three years since the revolution, there could have been no top-down order for them to kill.

On some points, God, it seems fair enough. Many deaths occurred in attacks on police stations, which the judge ruled as self-defense.

But it leaves a void of culpability and an emptiness of satisfaction. They may well be innocent, but who is guilty?

Many in are Egypt are convinced he is. After a long revolutionary pause, a few thousand descended to Tahrir Square to protest before being dispersed by security.

Many in Egypt are convinced he isn’t. They place blame on Islamists, accused of opening prisons and killing protestors to enflame sentiment against the police.

And many in Egypt no longer much care. They see Mubarak as old and deserving of sympathy, but the state as imperiled and in need of stability.

God, judge Mubarak rightly in the end, and in the now. Honor the judge, but judge his conscience. Judge the consciences of all who contributed, assembled, and weighed the evidence.

Comfort those who still mourn the blood of their loved ones. May their cries to you be heard in the end, and in the now. Give them perseverance until all facts are known and all crimes convicted. May neither they nor their cause be forgotten.

But neither, God, let it be manipulated. May those who protest seek justice, not retribution. May those who support seek truth, not stability.

But God, in your wisdom, give all the above.

Clean the conscience of Egypt, God. Too many avoid repentance, too many escape guilt.

In their pain, may they appeal to you. Judge.



Friday Prayers for Egypt: Deep Wounds

Flag Cross Quran


When all is not well the wounds can go deep. Continued health demands paying attention.

The Muslim Brotherhood has stumbled badly. Tripped deliberately or drunk with power, their wound still feels fresh to many. And the United Arab Emirates throws salt on it by designating them – and allegedly connected organizations – as terrorist entities.

But the wound in the Gulf is treated carefully. Qatar, isolated politically from her neighbors, is restored into fellowship with Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. Agreeing to tone down her rhetoric against Egypt, they tone down support as well for the Brotherhood.

The wounds of many have been left to fester. The anniversary of the Mohamed Mahmoud clashes passed with little remembrance, as revolutionary activists lament missing justice. One former Brotherhood member beloved of most activists had long withdrawn from many in depression. She committed suicide only a few days earlier.

God, the Brotherhood is mentioned in all the above, but there are many wounded beside. Indeed, they caused much of the wounding. But whether activists or old guard, Islamists or Christians, Bedouins or police, tour guides or the average Egyptian, many are nursing their lingering bruise.

Having a wound implies neither innocence nor guilt. All it implies is the need for healing.

Some wounds demand amputation. God, help Egypt, the region, and the world judge the Brotherhood correctly.

But deal mercifully with all taken in by the promise of the Brotherhood, who currently at least have had their dreams derailed. Deal mercifully as well with those enamored of the revolution, who find their sacrifices have been in vain.

Guide them, God, so that they may reflect correctly. But heal them and restore them to wholeness.

But even treated wounds can leave a scar. And a scar can boost pride and intimidate others.

For those wounded early in the revolutionary period, many have rebounded. They were trampled on by the dreams of others, and many were enamored with their fall. May they now deal mercifully.

Guide them, God, so that they may reflect correctly. But heal them and restore them to wholeness.

But after their individual healing, God, judge righteously between them. Hold accountable all who have erred. Deal mercifully, but restore society to wholeness.

And if Egypt heals, may the Gulf as well. Not just politically, but in full conformity with your will. Bless the region, God, and all its people.

Her wounds are deep and stretch back decades, even centuries. May all pay attention, and in good health, continue.



Striking ISIS: Egyptian Participation and Christian Angst



Many Christian religious leaders in the Middle East expressed great reserve against the US plan to strike at ISIS in Syria. But one particular Egyptian politician, a Christian, argues forcefully for it—including Egyptian participation. Now that the bombs have begun to fall, his words are also worthy of consideration.

“We should go, if only symbolically with a few planes,” said Ehab el-Kharrat, a founding member of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party. “We must not give a message to our local terrorists that we are backing off.”

Egyptian President Sisi has promised coordination with the US-led coalition, but has not contributed any forces. He recently stated Egypt is neither for Assad nor the opposition, though it does maintain membership in the Friends of Syria group organized early against the regime. Sisi has, however, compared the Islamist forces fighting in Syria to the Muslim Brotherhood, accused of coordinating ongoing attacks in Egypt.

Kharrat believes Egypt, and the international community in particular, should have been much more forceful, from an earlier date, but narrowly focused. He says many in his party agree, though it has taken no official stand.

“The decision not to arm the Free Syrian Army was a serious mistake and we must do so now as soon as possible,” he said. “Assad is not the answer, he is a cruel dictator, worse than Mubarak, similar to Saddam.”

Kharrat criticized the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis for understanding the procedures of democracy, but not its philosophy – unless they reject it to begin with. But leaning on Assad, like some Christians are at least reluctantly willing to do, does not work either. It has produced the ills Christians are currently suffering.

“Autocratic regimes give ground to breed Muslim extremists like bacteria,” he said.

Bishop Muhib Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land agrees. “We have relied on secular autocrats who oppress others,” he said, “but must recognize also that democracy is a damaged concept.”

The trouble is that many Middle Eastern Christians, and certainly Egyptian Copts, feel trapped. Their experience with Islamists leads them to mistrust open democratic procedures that may bring them to power. But the secular states they have relied upon do not necessarily protect them beyond rhetoric.

Some in Egypt, such as Mina Fayek, a Cairo based blogger and activist, complain the Egyptian state has not yet rebuilt the churches attacked by Islamist mobs following the dispersal of the pro-Morsi Rabaa sit-in. The army promised it would be done; over a year later little work has progressed.

Others, such as Rami Kamel, a veteran Coptic activist, see both state and church inaction over the recent Gabl al-Tayr incident, where 22 Copts and three policemen were injured dispersing a sit-in protest over a missing woman believed to be kidnapped. “Sisi and the state will never go to the church,” he said, “because the church’s role has ended.”

But to imagine these sentiments as indicative of Coptic opinion would be greatly misconstrued. Christians are among Sisi’s greatest supporters.

If he follows through with his rhetoric, perhaps they should be. Commenting on the airstrikes in Iraq and Syria to the AP, Sisi said much more was necessary.

“The comprehensive strategy we’re talking about — part of it would be the security and military confrontation, correct, but it would also include fighting poverty,” he said. “We are also talking about improving education, which is important, as well as changes in the Islamic religious discourse.”

This coincides exactly with Kharrat’s opinion, though the second part awaits a demonstration of Sisi’s commitment.

“In Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, and all our states, the question of religion and politics must be resolved,” he said. “The only solution is a democratic and liberal system.”

As for Syria, Kharrat believes the practical only solution is to strike a deal with Assad to remove him from power, but assure him of non-prosecution, and the Allawites of non-persecution. Both Allawites and Christians must be incorporated into the new government, but only from outside the Baathist regime.

But the immediate task is to fight the Islamist rebels: ISIS, Nusra, and whoever else. Whether or not anyone else is left standing to take on Assad is a fair question, but not a few Christians, at least for now and however much they distrust America, are glad that ISIS is being hit.


An Egyptian Prayer of Fear

Prayer of Fear

Sometimes it is hard to pray for Egypt.

Every Friday I seek to semi-summarize events of the week and reflect on what God would desire as Egypt’s best. This becomes harder because I don’t want these to be my prayers, but something all Egyptians – Muslims and Christians, of all political stripes – can pray together.

As such, it is often reduced to the triumph of principles, the application of which might be stridently debated among those who would jointly call for justice, freedom, and the like.

I suppose this has been the plague of post-revolutionary Egypt. Still, we should not stop praying, nor should Egyptians stop seeking joint solutions beyond the principles. Too many seem ready to accept their desired solution be imposed upon their opponents.

Yes, it is hard. How can right and wrong be compromised? How can completely divergent perspectives come together?

As a result, my prayers get repetitive, and often are reduced to the posing of questions. I, myself, generally don’t know how to answer them. Inasmuch as Egyptians differ over the answers, the best we can hope for is that God will sort it out – preferably through some sort of consensus.

But can we rejoice in the triumph of one side of a dichotomy: Morsi vs. Sisi, legitimacy vs. coup, Islamism vs. liberalism, extremism vs. democracy?

After all, if God is sovereign over the promotion of kings and the deposing thereof, he is not above using the deceitful wiles of man to establish his righteous will.

But as the sides have changed so frequently, how can any have confidence God’s will is behind it all, beyond simple theological assertion?

Is he winnowing Egypt? Is he punishing her? Will one set of partisans triumph in the end after he brings them through tribulation?

I wish I had the discernment and wisdom I ask him to give the good people of Egypt. May they soon have a nation to match all of his principles, whatever that must look like.

In the meanwhile, I am glad to share this video prayer offered by an Egyptian, which wrangles over similar issues. Like mine, it is comprised more of questions than anything else. It combines images of triumph from the continuing revolution with images of its tragedy. It is moving and sobering.

It is also a prayer. Please pray along with them, and may God’s will be done. As it both opens and closes: Deliver us…


Friday Prayers for Egypt: Defining 6 October

Flag Cross QuranGod,

Egyptian national holidays seek to honor the deeds of the past. Their value is invested by the state, but the people can sometimes force a redefinition.

The most recent example occurred on January 25, 2011, now celebrated as the birth of the revolution. But the date was chosen to coincide with Police Day, in protest of the brutality for which they were known.

The current example is under contention, taking place October 6, 2013. The date traditionally honors the launch of the surprise attack across the Suez Canal which led eventually to the liberation of Sinai, known more often in the West as the Yom Kippur War.

Now, pro-Morsi supporters have chosen the day to launch massive protests against what they deem was a military coup. As January 25 became a popular rejection of the police state, they hope October 6 will become a popular rejection of the military state, and in particular its head, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

The protest weekend kicked off today, leading to sporadic clashes, and an at least initial failure to occupy desired squares such as Tahrir and Rabaa, site of the pro-Morsi sit-in violently dispersed in August.

God, what is Egypt’s history? In all nations it is part fact and part construct, defining what it means to be a citizen. Only in Egypt there is plenty to choose from, simply pick your millennium. Which is more honorable in your eyes: distilled data or cherished myth? As Egypt faces her future, give an accounting of her past. Help her self-improvement to be based on self-reflection.

But what of today, God? In one sense it is more of the same. Protests of diminished size seek to keep alive the hope of reinstating a president and returning achieved legitimacy. But they also appear to further antagonize a tired population which – at least in the cities – had largely rejected the president even before he was deposed.

The difference is twofold in possibility. First, they aim this time for the squares, which if occupied bring great symbolic value. Second, they call for numbers and have built up the hype, which if fulfilled can redefine the struggle.

God, success and failure are in your hands. Many Egyptians pray you grant them success, while many others praise you for thwarting their ambition. In a polarized nation, God, make clear the facts. Reveal all offenses and manipulations, so that culprits are exposed for all to see.

A new Egypt was born on January 25, God, but such a venerable nation can never be truly new. A part of that nation was recovered on October 6, and some hope to claim – or reclaim – her again this week. Be sovereign in Egypt, God, and give sovereignty to the people. Protect them and Egypt together.

But redefine them according to your will, that peace, justice, transparency, and love might define the nation entire.




The Brittle State

Salama Moussa writes about the Orwellian realities in Egypt today:

The narrative surrounding the January 2011 revolution has done damage to the goal of progress in Egypt. The accepted myth is that of an impossibly brave action against an exceptionally impregnable wall.  While there is no denying the bravery, the Mubarak state was less an impregnable wall than a pile of rubble.  Like a bridge with heft and no strength it awaited the first burst of wind under the right conditions to exhibit spectacular collapse. The Egyptian state will be made stronger and more durable by trimming rather than adding. Everything in Egypt today is the opposite of what it seems. The arbitrarily empowered policeman undermines law and order rather than enforce it. The hectoring Sheikh (or Abouna [i.e. priest]) does not promote morality, just false piety. The constantly declaiming politician does not enlighten, but obfuscates. The preening man in uniform does not protect, but menace. The deeply patriarchal men do not hold the family together, just rob it of half of its strength. The Islamists are menacing not because they are the “other” but because they are a reflection of a damaged self. A country this deep in the rabbit hole has to consider doing the exact opposite of what its instincts demand.

The goals of the 2011 revolution, Bread-Freedom-Social Justice, are catchy, vague and contradictory. The country needs a chicken in every pot not more poorly-baked and subsidized bread. Only an unfettered market will guarantee that, and such a market will initially run counter to social justice, although it will ultimately strengthen it in profound ways. Freedom is a vague concept, notable only by its absence. What will free Egypt from its current chaos is respect for the rules, which may seem initially counter to “Freedom”, but is ultimately its true servant and guardian.  Incremental progress, not revolutionary action, may guarantee the most profound change in Egypt today.

He also provides an interesting lesson in (literal) bridge-building.

But speaking of the state, there is also the concept of Egypt’s ‘deep state’, which according to Amr Darrag, one of the few prominent Muslim Brothers not arrested, caused the fall of Morsi:

MM: What would you say were your biggest mistakes?

AD: We underestimated the power of the deep state. We thought that just having the revolution and elections, the deep state would diminish automatically or gradually.

When parliamentary elections took place and only 13 members from feloul [remnants of the Mubarak regime] parties made it, we thought it was a strong indication that they don’t have much influence. But maybe at that time they were still gathering themselves.

As time passed, we found that they have much more influence. They managed to have their candidate be the second top presidential candidate. If you go through the government, as I did as minister, you find out that they are really deeply rooted everywhere. A more revolutionary path would have been necessary to expedite reform.

When he says ‘everywhere’, Muslim Brothers often mean the Egyptian bureaucracy – bloated, inefficient, corrupt, and the mechanism through which most of the state moves. It can be bypassed, perhaps, but it must be placated.

The Brotherhood believed this ‘deep state’ was against them from the beginning and foiled their project. Darrag points out their ‘mistake’ was underestimating it, but let us suppose his point is true.

The mistake is not in underestimation, but in losing their revolutionary allies who would be willing to confront it with them. But I have yet to hear a Brother articulate this manner of ‘mistake’. What could they have done to keep their very fragile and distrustful coalition together?

Of course, others say the Brothers had no intention of reform, but of takeover. Either way, they failed.

But Salama Moussa’s labeling of the state as ‘brittle’ is at the heart of making sense of Egypt these days: What is the nature of the beast?

How can it be harnessed – either whittled or strengthened – for Egypt’s good? And, who can do it?

Here is his unfortunate conclusion:

The only open question is whether Egypt will be lucky enough to find leaders who can articulate this vision to its people in terms both understandable and respectful. It would run counter to the last decades of leadership, which has been alternately charismatic, theatrical, tedious, and stupid, but rarely effective.


The Police as Part of the January 25 Revolution

From Ahram Online, reporting President Morsi’s visit to the central security force headquarters, in what must surely be a typo:

“You are the protectors of the country’s inside and outside safety [said Morsi]. The police were part of the successful crossing of the Suez Canal in the 1973 war and also part of the January 25 Revolution,” he added.

The initial demands of Egypt’s 25 January uprising, intentionally organised on the same day as the annual police day, included an end to police brutality and the State Security apparatus run by the Mubarak regime.

Much of the speech was commendable, encouraging them during difficult times:

“Any obstacles you’re facing, we will get through them – together,” he stressed.

He continued: “You are the watchful eye of the homeland. The country’s best interest needs your efforts and sacrifices.”

“You all know that our Egypt is going through a critical period, but with the aid of God and cooperation of the police and military, we will be able to pass through this phase.”

But he included also a reference to foreign interference – an old tactic of Mubarak, unless, of course, it is actually true:

“Beware, our outside enemy is seeking to create division among us, and we must not allow it,” President Morsi said in his opening speech.

One recent tweet criticized Morsi, saying he promised to visit Port Said, then only addressed them on TV, and the next day honored the institution which shot them.

Morsi’s job with the police is incredibly complex, but the January 25 comment is over the top. The revolution’s initial central focus was the end of the police state. Perhaps Morsi will get to this eventually, but here, he calls them heroes.

I can only imagine the rest of the speech gave more context, but the revision of history is not a firm foundation for social and institutional change. Yes, summon forth their better natures, but clean the skeletons in the closet, too.

Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

Understanding January 25, Again

Tahrir Square, January 25, 2012

In Tahrir and in squares throughout the nation, Egyptians once again filled public space. In fact, by appearances they did so in greater numbers than at the height of the January 25 revolution which deposed President Mubarak. What is not clear altogether is why they were there, or who they represent.

Tomorrow may tell.

Some Egyptians, the revolutionaries, are very clear. They demand the fall of the regime, just as they did a year ago. Mubarak, they say, was only the public face of a military regime that still stands. For Egypt to be truly free, the army must return to its barracks, guard the borders, and yield to a civilian president.

There are different variations on this theme. Some want power immediately transferred to the parliament, with its speaker as head of government as an interim measure. Others desire the formation of a civilian presidential council to guide through the writing of a constitution and election of a president proper. Nearly all, however, find the military council to be leading the counter-revolution seeking to preserve the status quo under a new guise, and many find the Muslim Brotherhood to be complicit in a power sharing agreement.

The Muslim Brotherhood is also in the square. Their presence is less clear. They have taken the lion’s share of responsibility to secure entrances to Tahrir, to prevent unruly factions or clandestine weapons to enter. They stop short of proclaiming today as a day of celebration, but they are pleased. One of their leading figures declared revolutionary legitimacy is in the hands of parliament, and no longer in Tahrir. Yet they still speak of an unfinished revolution, though they rarely speak ill of the military council. Another leader has proposed the idea of a ‘safe exit’ for the military, implying they have committed crimes while in power. Yet they firmly stick to the announced military timetable to hand over power, after presidential elections in June.

Salafis are also in the square, but their voices are diverse. Some are very anti-military council, others less so, equally pleased with their gains in parliament. Yet Salafism is not a united movement, even having banded together under a political party. While committed throughout their ranks to a state which enforces sharia law – however gradually – some see military rule as an obstacle while others see it as a fight not worth waging, as long as they have room to transform Egypt socially. Salafi presence is not a dominant makeup of today’s protest, but they are there.

Then there is the average citizen, who is impossible to qualify. The military council has been heavily lauding the January 25 revolution, billing today’s anniversary as a great celebration. They praise the heroism and bravery of the youth. They also praise the armed forces, as guardians of the revolution. Revolutionaries claim they have brainwashed the people through state media; equally likely is that the average citizen has always trusted the army, as most men have served within its ranks. Is the average citizen there to celebrate with them?

Or has the average citizen, at least in Tahrir, come to see the military council as the problem? Following the most recent clashes on Qasr al-Aini Street outside the Cabinet building, a female volunteer at a field hospital in Tahrir was beaten by military personnel and in the attack stripped of her full length niqab, revealing a provocative blue bra. This image was widely circulated, and a newspaper the next day posted it on its front page, with the title – Kazeboon (Liars). The military denied using force to dismiss the sit-in, and this paper was outraged.

In the weeks following this incident activists have created a Kazeboon movement, taking a projector through the lower class streets of Cairo and showing footage of the clashes in public spaces. They have often been resisted forcefully by military sympathetic residents, or, according to some accusations, paid thugs.

Has this campaign affected the average citizen? Is this why the numbers in Tahrir have swelled?

What is clear is that the numbers came from everywhere. Previous demonstrations used Tahrir as a gathering point; this effort recalled January 28, 2011 when marches set off from around the city to converge there. Most of these marches today appear to have been of revolutionary sentiment, and found Tahrir Square filled before they even arrived. As such they encamped in the side streets and on bridges crossing the Nile, while the mixed groups described above gathered around their various stages – Islamist, liberal, socialist, and families of the martyrs.

The differences are immense, one year to the next. In 2011 the demonstrators were met by security forces who confronted them with batons, water cannons, and tear gas. From a different angle, once the demonstrators secured the square after the withdrawal of security, there were no stages in Tahrir; all the people were one. Now, the paths to Tahrir were open to all, but divided once they arrived.

This description illustrates why tomorrow may be indicative. Revolutionary groups have announced efforts to conduct an open sit-in. Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood has announced they are leaving the square. The average citizen will go back to his home and sleep. What will he do tomorrow? Today, the numbers were immense; what will they look like tomorrow?

Perhaps tomorrow will not be deciding, in the same manner January 26 meant little last year. Yet still, the script is flipped. On January 25 the demonstrations were led by activists, with the Muslim Brotherhood wavering on the sidelines, and the Salafis largely maintaining political quietism. The 26th and 27th were met with smaller confrontations, but momentum was building in anticipation of Friday, the 28th, the Day of Rage. On the weekend, following Friday prayers, the nation was asked to validate the revolution. They, including the Muslim Brotherhood, did.

This time, religious groups have begun in participation, but at least in the case of the Brotherhood, now withdraw. Tomorrow, the 26th, will see a sit-in, but what will be of Friday, a day earlier this calendar year, on the 27th? Tomorrow and continuing there will be no conflation of Tahrir revolutionary celebrants; all who continue will be revolutionaries.

Without the Brotherhood and their vast skills of mobilization, can they succeed?

The question may not be that simple, as we still have a day in-between to change the equation. Since the fall of Mubarak sit-ins have ended violently. Often there has been an attempt at escalation, which eventually was met by force. Some say the escalators are infiltrators seeking conflict so as to mar the public opinion of continued revolution. Others say the escalations have been peaceful, and met with a security response that has been unwarranted and reminiscent of the Mubarak regime, or worse. What will happen with tonight’s sit-in, if anything?

Already some of the revolutionaries have moved the place of protest from Tahrir Square about three blocks to the north to the Maspero Radio and TV Building – the seat of state media. In occupying this site they wish to highlight what they believe to be media distortions, but they do so at a point of great state sensitivity. Will they be allowed to stay? Or, do some wish to storm it altogether? If so, are they infiltrators looking to spark a fight?

Also in the air are rumors the demonstration will move to the military hospital where Mubarak is residing, so as to bring him to the square for trial. Additionally a procession is foretold that will move to Tora Prison to bring his sons and other remnants of the regime yet to receive full trials. If these are more than rumor, they will certainly merit resistance. But who issues the rumor/plan – revolutionaries or infiltrators?

Engineered or otherwise, the spark that may change the equation is violence. A simple attempt by police to violently clear a small sit-in in November made immediate waves on Twitter. Within hours it brought a deluge of support, leading to five days of street fighting on Mohamed Mahmoud Street outside Tahrir. The square itself filled once more, leading to the sacking of the government when all was said and done.

Surely the military council will not use violence tomorrow, but who knows? Or, will someone use violence in effort to pin blame on them, or their supposed plain clothed thugs? If violence occurs, will it keep people away, or attract them in numbers? So much is unknown.

Equally unknown is the reaction if no violence occurs. How big will the sit-in be? Will it grow on Friday? Can it maintain itself until forcing the military council to hand over power somewhere? Will it maintain its presence until June, waiting for presidential elections? So much is unknown.

And, equally unknown is where the Muslim Brotherhood will be. By siding against Tahrir now do they reveal an understanding with the military council? Or, are they the best revolutionaries of all, seeking to undo the military state via an elected parliament with widely accepted legitimacy? Do they risk losing their own popular legitimacy among the people? Or, are they waiting in the wings – perhaps as before – to see where the winds blow? The Brotherhood has consistently denied any interest in securing the presidency since the first days of the revolution. Yet if the military council were to fall, might they claim this prize as well, maintaining public posture that they never sought it?

Of course, the next few days may pass entirely without incident. If it is true the majority sentiment from January 25 is against military rule, perhaps today is only a preview of June, in case of delayed presidential elections or the ascension of a military candidate. The Brotherhood, and the people, may not wish confrontation now – might the numbers padded through their mobilization have been a warning shot?

Such is Egypt during revolution, one year on. It is nearly impossible to read the tea leaves, as conventional wisdom is consistently turned on its head, and surprises await around every corner. Even today, no one expected these numbers.

Tomorrow may bring more clarity.



From a Year Ago:

And then the internet went out.