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Worrisome Indications of Egypt’s Future

Most people I have interacted with since our return to Cairo are very positive about the nation’s future. They are glad to see Morsi go, the Brotherhood discredited, and though they anticipate a few hiccups from disgruntled Islamists, they expect a return to stability and normalcy within a few months.

Here are two voices which suggest otherwise.

The first is from the Daily News, from Mahmoud Salem, aka Sandmonkey, a liberal blogger who does not have rosy glasses, though he once did. Quite the opposite, in fact:

The “returning” police state is an illusion; the police can’t even protect their own stations. Anyone can see that there is no state, only people who believe they have power, enforceable by guns, against a population that is hungry, armed, and has grown desensitised from violence amidst an economic situation that borders on catastrophic. Throw Islamists in the mix, a military curfew that just got extended for two more months, vanishing tourism for the third year running, and the financial and economic repercussions of the “war on terror,” and anyone can tell you that this won’t end well economically. On a separate but related note, locally manufactured cigarettes are already disappearing and reappearing in the black market.
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Every activist I know fears the return of the police state. Every non-activist I know is wondering where the police are.
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The other illusion is the return of Mubarak’s “feloul” to power, which won’t happen. You see, the businessmen feloul, the face of the NDP for years, will not be able to take over this time, because at the end of the day they are not “true feloul,” but rather, the elites who utilised the NDP for power and  were used by the NDP political leadership as a front. They were in power because the NDP leadership forced them upon local leaders, had them run for office in areas where they could never win on their own; if you followed the parliamentary elections of 2005 and 2010, it already wasn’t working, with the NDP sometimes fielding four candidates against each other in every district. This used to happen when the NDP was in full operation, with a politburo and a state behind it. Now, there is no politburo, no party, no leadership or symbols, with every man for himself, and the “true feloul,” the drug dealers, arms traders and big family criminals who have armed gangs, are about to become the true rulers of the country,  since they will be the only force capable of ruling the streets that are void of state control. Only the most brutal of them will end up winning a parliamentary seat in a full individual seat election.

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The disintegration of the state will lead to the rise of “local leadership” as a street stabilising force, which means that our streets will be gang-controlled. The state’s ability to provide security in such conditions will become rather limited or, to be more accurate, impossible. The bad security will lead to a worse economy, which means that the corrupt government officials will become more vicious with their bribe demands, which would serve as their source of income, as their actual one begins drying up. Infighting will ensue amongst different branches of the government over patronage, because a contracting economy will equal less stealing, and consequently, more ruthless infighting.

His article is lengthy and worth reading, and actually gets to some, gulp, good news. The above state of affairs will continue for three years or so, and then the exhausted powers that be will eventually run out of partners with whom to divide up the pie that is Egypt.

On the brink of becoming another Somalia, they will finally yield to the principles and goals of the January 25 revolution. It’s advocates may be the only ones to desire reforming the mess that Egypt will be by then.

Speaking of Somalia, here is a more journalistic account of this process set in motion, by Foreign Policy:

In the Sinai Peninsula, where government buildings and checkpoints have been bombarded by rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and car bombs on a near-daily basis in recent weeks, the Egyptian state is losing ground to ultraconservative Islamists with an alternative vision for rule of law. The growing influence of self-taught sharia judges who uphold the Quran over Egyptian law reflects an alarming erosion of state sovereignty in the Sinai Peninsula. In late August, state courts in North Sinai were forced to transfer all of their cases to the comparatively stable jurisdiction of Ismailiya, in the face of escalating attacks by armed extremists targeting government buildings and security personnel. This week, two prominent sharia judges were among 15 hard-line Salafis arrested on charges of inciting terrorist attacks, as the Egyptian government struggles to contain rising extremism. But despite the current crackdown, it is clear that the deeply entrenched sharia courts of North Sinai are here to stay.

Since the removal of former President Mohamed Morsi on July 3, the already fragile government in Sinai has been further crippled by a wave of armed attacks, ambushes, and car bombings by militants equipped with increasingly sophisticated weaponry stolen from police stations or smuggled across Egypt’s borders with Libya and Sudan. The escalation of violence has forced the closure of a critical police station in Arish and the evacuation of other government buildings, creating an institutional vacuum that sharia courts are opportunistically exploiting.

The outsourcing of traditional law enforcement functions to non-state actors is reminiscent of a pattern seen in failed states like Somalia, where powerful Islamic courts with their own private militias and ties to al Qaeda seized control over vast swaths of the country in 2006. While the sharia courts of Sinai are nowhere near as institutionalized as those in Somalia, they similarly aspire to absorb the functions of state institutions that are failing to govern.

These courts are not run by radical extremists, as the author makes clear, but some might not find much shade of difference in their end game:

Sharia judges, eager to disassociate themselves from more radical Islamists, are quick to enumerate their moderate credentials and tolerance of religious minorities. Beik insisted that the courts operate on a purely voluntary basis and would never forcibly impose Islamic law on non-Muslims without their consent. To illustrate this point, he proudly informed me that the House of Sharia Judgment has heard three cases involving claims by Christian litigants against Muslim adversaries since the revolution, and in all three cases, the Christian party prevailed — a fact he cited as evidence of the courts’ neutrality.

But although the sharia judges of North Sinai pay lip service to liberal democratic principles of inclusion and equality, they ultimately aspire to establish a parallel state governed not by Egypt’s constitution, but by a retrograde interpretation of sharia that relegates women and religious minorities to second-class citizenship. For now, their rulings are purely advisory and non-binding. But Abu Faisal predicts that his court’s decisions will one day carry the force of law in the Islamic emirate he hopes to see established in the Sinai. “Sharia is already the law of the land here,” he said. “God willing, someday it will be the law of the state.”

I maintain optimism for Egypt’s future. Prognosis, however, is currently beyond my confidence to assert.

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Personal

Pessimism from an Egyptian Sandmonkey

The Egyptian Sandmonkey

Mahmoud Salem, the self-moniker-ed Sandmonkey, has made a few previous entries into this blog. Several months ago when the revolution appeared to be faltering over the summer, this widely-read Egyptian blogger outlined the reasons for his optimism. Later on, I had the opportunity to hear and wrote about his campaign speech as he ran for parliament in the recent elections (and lost). He has been quiet on the internet since then, but resurfaced with a new post – Underneath– which I will excerpt from below.

‘Underneath’ is Sandmonkey’s effort to put to words his diverse thoughts about the current Egyptian situation. Several weeks ago protestors were fighting the police in Mohamed Mahmoud Street off Tahrir Square; now they are fighting the army in Qasr al-Aini Street a further 90° to the south. The mood is sour, people are dying, and a media battle is underway about who deserves the blame.

Within this context Sandmonkey’s earlier optimism is gone. What remains is his lucid commentary as a revolutionary partisan. The opinions are his, but they summarize what many are thinking. Or perhaps more appropriately, what many are confused about. I rank myself among the confused, and trust he will forgive my additional comments interspersed with his own.

This is not an uplifting post. You have been warned.

On the Context

My helplessness reached its peak when my friend S. came over two nights ago, and she was not alright. Fighting to release the thousands that are getting military tried over the months has been a draining crusade for her, and it only got worse the moment she got involved in trying to ensure that the death reports of those killed in Mohamed Mahmoud do not get forged, which meant she had to be at the Zeinhom morgue the night those bodies would come in, surrounded by wailing families and crying loved ones, seeing dead bodies after dead body come in, and almost getting arrested by the authorities that didn’t want her stopping the cover-up. She told me after wards that she now sees those dead bodies everywhere, and she can’t escape them. But that night, 2 nights ago, she had just come back from Tahrir, where a man, standing inches away from her, ended up getting set on fire due to an exploding Molotov cocktail. She could see the fire engulf him, the smell of burnt flesh and hair, his agonizing screams for help. She was silent. Very calm and silent. She was sitting next to me and I couldn’t reach her, and all I could do is hold her without being able to tell her that things will be alright. Because… how? How will they be alright exactly?

Human rights activists have stated that over 10,000 people have been sentenced under military law since the revolution. The ‘No to Military Trials’ campaign has been helping individual cases and seeking a halt to the entire process. Certainly many of these 10,000 – I do not know how the number is calculated – have committed crimes of different natures. With the police ineffective and the judicial system painfully slow, the military has stated it must use military law to keep security and ensure justice. Activists claim it has been used against demonstrators – who get labeled as thugs – and in any case even a criminal is due a trial before a civilian judge. This particular activist is fighting hard against what she believes to be stark injustice, and seems nearly spent.

On Culture vs. Politics

One of the biggest mistakes of this revolution, and there are plenty to go around, was that we allowed its political aspects to overshadow the cultural and social aspects. We have unleashed a torrent of art, music and creativity, and we don’t celebrate or enjoy it, or even promote it. We have brought the people to a point where they were ready to change. To change who they are and how they act, and we ignored that and instead focused all of our energies in a mismanaged battle over the political direction of this country. We clashed with the military, and we forgot the people, and we let that small window that shows up maybe every 100 years where a nation is willing to change, to evolve, to go to waste.  

It is true Egypt exploded in hope and creativity following the revolution. I don’t know if idealistic artistic utopia can last forever, but it has certainly been sidelined by the political struggle for power. Particularly damaging has been the Islamist vs. liberal rhetoric which has dominated, casting many into a defensive politics of fear and culture war. This is not fertile ground for the arts.

On the Elections

The parliamentary elections are fraudulent. I am not saying this because I lost- I lost fair and square- but because it’s the truth. The fraud happened on the hands of the election workers and the Judges. People in my campaign were offered Ballot boxes, employees and judges in polling stations were instructing people who to vote for and giving unstamped ballots to Christians in polling stations where they are heavily present to invalidate their votes, and the Egyptian bloc has about half a ton of correct ballots- ones that showed people voting for them- found being thrown in the streets in Heliopolis, Ghamra, Shubra, Zaitoun, Alexandria, Suez and many other districts. The amount of reports of fraud and legal injunctions submitted against these elections are enough to bring it all down and have it done all over again. Hell, a simple request for a vote recount would be enough to expose the fraud, since the ballots were thrown in the street. The people, however, are not privy of this, because it all looked very functional and organized to them. This is very important, because it tells you the shape of things to come.

The Egyptian Bloc is the grouping of liberal parties which organized for a civil society, but appeared to be motivated chiefly by opposition to Islamist parties. Sandmonkey ran with the support of this coalition. All sides have engaged in electoral violations to some degree, but what he reports here, if true, demonstrates organized fraud. One member of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party – a member of the Egyptian Bloc coalition – went as far as to state the current violence is meant as a distraction from the electoral violations. Beginning one day after the vote, the world did not look at the elections but the violence which followed, maintaining the belief the elections were sound because they were comparatively free from violence. From my readings this is little reported internationally.

We had one of our campaign workers fall victim to a hit and run “accident”, a campaign operative getting arrested by the military police at a polling station for filming the army promoting the Salafi Nour Party (with a big banner carrying the Noor Party slogan being placed on the side of an army truck) and his film confiscated of course, our campaign headquarters got attacked with Molotov cocktails by thugs sent by a “moderate” Islamist centrist party, the hotel we were staying in got repeatedly attacked by thugs till 3 am, with the army platoon leader protecting the hotel informing me that if I don’t resolve the situation, he will “deal violently” with those outside and inside the hotel, the Leader of the 3rd Egyptian Army calling us looking for me, the Chief of Security for Suez doing the same thing, lawyers and thugs working for a semi-leftist party filed police reports against us claiming we hired them and owed them money when we didn’t, and the other campaign manager finally going to deal with the situation, ends up getting arrested, and the two campaign members that were with him were left outside under the mercy of groups of thugs, and we managed by the grace of God get them all out unharmed and we escape Suez while trucks filled with guys with guns going around Suez looking for us.

Oh, and we also sent in one of our campaign operatives dressed as a Salafi into the Suez central committee for vote counting, where army personnel assured him that they have helped the Noor Party and told him that they hooked them up with two seats, while winking.

Well, this is testimony. Take it or leave it. The Noor Party represents the electoral alliance of Salafis, who campaigned both against the Egyptian Bloc and the Muslim Brotherhood dominated Democratic Alliance. I have heard tales that American democracy was similar a hundred or so years ago. Doesn’t make it right, if true, but it might put a brake on judgmentalism, though not on demands for transparency.

So, why would the military be “helping” the Salafi Noor Party get votes? Well, mainly because they invented them. It was a match made possible by State-Security, who probably alerted the military of how reliable were the Salafis in their previous “cooperation” to scare the living shit out of the population into submission and supporting the regime. … Ensuring that the Salafis have a big chunk of the parliament (one that is neither logical or feasible considering their numbers in Egypt) achieves two goals: 1) Provide a mechanism for the security apparatus to keep the Muslim Brotherhood in check if they ever thought of using religion as a weapon against SCAF (As far as the Salafis are concerned, the MB are secular infidels) and 2) to really frame the choice in our (and the international community’s) heads between a “Islamist country or a military regime”, because, let’s face it, The MB are not scary enough for the general population. But the Salafis? Terrifying *#@!.

Even before the revolution there was suspicion that state security had its hands in the Salafi movement. The rationale was that their theology promoted obedience to the ruler, whereas the Muslim Brotherhood continually advocated for reform, criticizing the president and his policies. Salafis were supposedly built as a counterweight, and allowed freedom to propagate in mosques whereas the Brotherhood was constantly curtailed. As Mubarak maintained a policy of ‘it’s me or the Brotherhood’, the military council has now raised the Salafis to play the same game (it is maintained).

In speaking with Salafis since the revolution they counter this argument, saying their silence was because they did not want to take on a regime that would crush them if they got out of line. They preferred to focus on the moral reform of society along Islamic lines, and let politics be. For what it is worth, those I have spoken with have seemed perfectly nice and normal people. Some of their leaders on the other hand, at least in the media, well …

On the Electorate

There is a disconnect between the revolutionaries and the people, and that disconnect exists in regards of priorities. Our priorities are a civilian government, the end of corruption, the reform of the police, judiciary, state media and the military, while their priorities are living in peace and putting food on the table. And we ignore that, or belittle it, telling them that if they want this they should support what we want, and deriding their economic fears by telling them that things will be rough for the next 3 to 5 years, but afterwards things will get better on the long run. Newsflash, the majority of people can’t afford having it even rougher for 3 to 5 years. Hell, they can’t afford to have it rough for one more month. We tell them to vote for us for a vague guarantee and to not to sell their votes or allow someone to buy their loyalty, while their priorities are making sure there is food on the table for their families tonight. You sell them hope in the future, and someone else gives them money and food to survive the present. Who, do you think, they will side with?

Living in upscale Maadi, I don’t have a pulse on the economic state of Egypt, but conventional wisdom states it is degrading rapidly. Egypt was always suffering from poverty, however, and to my knowledge the state is maintaining its subsidies. At the risk of ‘letting them eat cake’, I wonder about the dire situation of the common family. They are poor, but are they destitute?

Nonetheless his point is interesting. It is well demonstrated Islamist parties joined their campaigning with social charity to sell meat or supplies or gas bottles at discount prices. Would liberal parties not ‘stoop that low’? Do they not know how, being far from the street? Meanwhile, praise God for their charity, but was it a masquerade for their manipulation? Only God knows their hearts.

Here is a fun fact: About 40% of the people head to the polls not knowing who they will vote for, and are simply there because they are afraid of the 500LE fine they must pay for abstaining to vote; about another 50% go to the polls with a piece of paper that has the names & symbols of the people they will vote for, people that they don’t know, or their history or anything about them. They simply asked their friends and they told them that these are “good people to vote for”, and this is true across the board in all classes, upper and lower, uneducated and educated. And you can’t blame them really, because each district has over 100 candidates fighting over 2 seats and only 4 weeks to campaign. If you are the average new voter, there is no time to meet or evaluate or educate yourself about all of them in order to choose objectively between them. I know people that voted for me simply because I was the only candidate they met. I am not kidding.

I don’t know where he got his statistic from, but the fine for not voting is correct, as is his description of the peoples’ virgin political experience. He could have continued with a description of how 1/3 of seats go to individual candidates, and 2/3 go to party lists, both of which must have 50-50 professional vs. worker/farmer representation. By compromise politics or design, these elections must have been among the most confusing ever.

On Liberal Opposition to the Islamists

So many times I have met people who are terrified at the electoral successes of the Islamic parties in the election, and while they acknowledge that there “must be a deal” between the SCAF and the Islamists, they sit back with a knowing smile and tell me: “But you know what? The SCAF are not stupid. They will screw the Muslim Brotherhood over. They are just waiting for the right moment and they will destroy them. You just wait and see!”

I tell them that they are disgusting for thinking this way. That they are like a raped woman who is rooting for her rapist to rape the other woman who got away so that she wouldn’t be the only raped one.

A violent and pejorative metaphor, but he describes liberal thought well. I don’t know they express this with the glee he puts into their mouth, but there is an expectation of this eventuality – unless there is a deal, which if it holds returns to the United States for their still-undetermined support of Islamists, which confuses everyone. Furthermore, the expectation is often one of relief. ‘If we don’t win at least they won’t either.’

And he is right to condemn it.

On the Army

I love it when a fellow revolutionary asks me:  “I don’t understand what’s going on. Why are the Police/Military shooting and killing people and prolonging street conflicts in Mohamed Mahmoud/Qasr al-Aini? What do they want? What’s the big plan?”

Well, to put it simply, the big plan is the same as the immediate plan: they want you dead. It’s not that they want to kill opposition; they want to kill the opposition, literally. This country ain’t big enough for the both of you, and they have everything to lose. And they have guns. And the media. And all the keys of power. And you want to overthrow them. How do you think they will react to that? Give you cookies?

I think his zero-sum analysis of power sharing is apt in the post-revolutionary struggle for power. But it is hard to imagine ‘the point’ is to be killing people. If they wanted people dead they could be much more efficient in their killing. Furthermore, it is not the major activists who are dying for the most part, but the average man in the street (as best I know – apologies to those who know them better). Do they want to kill off the opposition by attrition? Are there infiltrators in the military? This is where things get so confusing again. Unless Sandmonkey has hit the nail on the head.

On Tahrir, and Confusing the Symbol with the Cause

But here is the truth: Tahrir is not a magical land, one which if we occupy we can hold all the magical keys of our kingdom and bring down the evil regime of whomever is in Power. Tahrir is a square. A piece of land. A symbol, but a piece of land nonetheless. And just because it worked before, it doesn’t mean it will work again. We are like an old married couple trying to recapture the magic of their early days by going to the same place they went to on their honeymoon, or dance to the same song they fell in love to, and discovering that it’s not working because there are real problems that need to be resolved. Symbols are nice, but they don’t solve anything.

And this is why I didn’t get involved: I couldn’t understand the Battle for Mohamed Mahmoud, because it’s a battle to hold on to a street of no actual significance or importance, and yet some of the best youth this country had to offer died or lost their eyes or were seriously injured protecting it. The same thing goes for the current battle. What is the purpose? What is the end Goal? A battle for the sake of battle? Just like maintaining a sit-in for the sake of maintaining the sit-in, even though a sit-in is supposed to be a means to an end, not an end in itself? I mean, I would understand if the aim was to occupy Maspiro or something, but they are not even attempting that. They are maintaining a fight in the street, because they got attacked at that street, so the street immediately becomes a symbol and we must fight back and not be driven away even as we get beaten and killed. Because it’s all about the Symbol, and not about the cause or the goal, and people are dying.

Maspero is the center of State TV broadcasting, which critics maintain is whitewashing military abuses during these clashes. The confusion I mentioned above can be partially resolved here, in that the protestors are themselves confused. They are fighting a battle with little point, and the police and army oblige them. Determining the perspective on police and army still leaves ample room for confusion, but this clears up why so many people are sacrificing themselves. It is sad.

Conclusion

There must be a way out, but I can’t seem to find one without more blood getting spilled. There is no panacea here, no exit strategy. Just helplessness, and waiting for whatever it is that will happen next, even though we can rest assured it won’t be good news. I am sorry that I cannot comfort you, but maybe, just maybe, this is not the time to be comforted.

Here is where his pessimism reigns, and where he himself is probably most distraught. Sandmonkey is an ideas person who focuses on solutions. Here, he has none. Perhaps it will come soon, perhaps not. In this, at least, for now, he needs comfort. Comfort offered helps one regroup. Of course, in all this he could be wrong and deluded. Regardless, he and everyone else deserves comfort all the same.

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The Political Education of a Sandmonkey

Mahmoud Salem, the Sandmonkey

As a result of the Arab Spring and the fall of Mubarak, Egypt is witnessing a surge in political participation as young revolutionaries enroll in the political process. One such figure is Mahmoud Salem, otherwise known from his blog as ‘Sandmonkey’. Salem was an early activist against Mubarak, using social media such as Facebook and Twitter, in which he tongue-in-cheek labeled himself a ‘micro-celebrity’. Since then his fame has grown electronically, having over 50,000 followers. By contrast, NBA superstar Deron Williams of the New Jersey Nets has only 33,000.

As the democratic transition has stuttered in Egypt, Salem realized the necessary commitment now was not activism alone but political and civil society participation. Though discouraged by current post-revolutionary conditions, he decided to run for office in the People’s Assembly, from his home district of Heliopolis, seeking to do something good for his son for the future of Egypt. This remark came from a political stump speech delivered in Heliopolis on November 3. The invitation was issued to the Sandmonkey, fittingly, through Twitter.

Disappointingly, nowhere near the 50,000 followers of Salem attended. By my count there were only twenty-six Egyptians, joined by fifteen foreigners. Salem spoke for about twenty minutes, answered questions for another twenty, and then left quickly at 9pm to get to another meeting.

Perhaps it served as a dry run. It is not an easy thing to run for office, or to become a politician. Until learning of the reasons for his quick exit, I figured he was either disappointed by the turnout or else reticent to ‘press the flesh’ and interact with potential voters, however few. At least he had one more notch on his belt in making campaign speeches, imagined to be much more difficult than writing an engaging blog post.

During his presentation Salem spoke of his hopes for Egypt as well as his focus on the local district of Heliopolis. The chief problem the country faces, on both the national and local level, is poor administration of work. This is seen currently in three areas: security, economy, and transparency.

In terms of security, Salem spoke of his efforts to interact with local policemen, though as a unit the police force is widely despised. They told him there has not been a great increase in crime, as popularly believed, but that the police feel impotent after the revolution to police as before. They requested, and Salem supports, an effort to equip them with cameras so that their interactions with the people are recorded. Such evidence would keep police from abusing their position, as well as protect from the abuse of false accusation. Salem also spoke of the popular committees which defended their neighborhoods during the revolution. These must continue and expand their work, representing positive community participation upon which the new Egypt should be built.

In terms of economy, Salem concentrated on the local needs of Heliopolis. Though the district is comparatively well off, it suffers as the money to pay government services throughout Egypt is collected almost entirely from the tax base of Cairo and Alexandria. More money must be retained locally, as garbage collection and hospital care in Heliopolis stands in need of improvement.

In terms of transparency, Salem spoke of the problems of bureaucracy, in which he like many hates going to government offices. The people are underpaid, and thus seek bribes, as the labyrinth-like process scuttles confused applicants from one line to the next. Instead, a simple 1-2-3-4 order should be established everywhere, to streamline movement and pay only at the end.

The question and answer period was dominated with concerns about the sectarian tensions in Egypt. Salem spoke of the role of the state, especially in the 70s when President Sadat gave a religious veneer to government that continued, to a lesser degree, under Mubarak. But he also spoke of the role of society, lamenting the poor integration of Muslims and Christians, as well as the poor understanding Muslims have of Christianity – a problem generally not reciprocated, he believed. His general advice was to encourage Copts to participate in society and politics, stating they would achieve their rights if only they properly mobilized. There are an estimated 400,000 to 600,000 Muslim Brothers in Egypt, he stated, if their extended family members are counted. By contrast, he counts twelve million Copts.

I attended this event curious to see what an activist looked like. Young, middle class, social media friendly Egyptians are credited with driving the revolution, but are increasingly marginalized and accused of serving foreign agendas. What is the reality with Sandmonkey? I have read his blog in the past and been impressed by his analysis; it was hoped a face to face encounter would be more telling.

I was surprised by his appearance. I had assumed an ‘activist’ would be a grizzled combatant. Instead, he appeared more akin to a teddy bear. His normalcy was appreciated, as was his speaking demeanor. Salem was comfortable addressing the room, but not polished, and certainly not charismatic. While admitting the difficulty in addressing a handful of people, there was little that was magnetic in his presentation. Void of rhetoric, he simply spoke what he believed, and of what he was doing to study and improve the lot of his country. He was very much a non-politician.

Conversation after the event mirrored my appreciation for his style and person, but added a resignation that he was likely to fail. I was more hopeful, if only from faith. It is true that he does not speak the language of the street and would be hard pressed to win over large crowds. Yet if he met the person on the street, could he not win him over through sincerity of heart? Can he do so sufficiently to win Heliopolis? That is the art of politics.

It is an art that surely Salem is learning on the fly. Sandmonkey has 50,000 votes won in Egypt and abroad, but the tens of thousands of Heliopolis residents need much more than a Twitter account. Salem knows this, and has thrown his hat in the ring to pursue the transformation. He, and many activists like him will soon discover if they have what it takes – experiencing now what may only pay off in the future. Win or lose, it is a necessary process for Egypt, but also a test for the revolutionary generation. They overcame their apathy and political restraints in January 2011; can they mobilize and strengthen civil society in November, in 2012, and beyond? Mahmoud Salem is among those leading the charge.

Also see: Optimism from an Egyptian Sandmonkey, written following one of his blog posts from June 2011.