Schrattenkalk in Kairo

In the following post I will try to explain what is happening in Egypt right now for those who live abroad. I will try this as even-handed as possible, be as clear as possible and circumvent the usual conspiracy theories. I know that this will not be easy and of course my position as a European with a green/liberal background has an impact on how I analyse things.

I have updated this post a couple of times and I have already added a number of links to most sections to give you an opportunity to read more about the various items I am presenting. In the most recent update I have changed four elements. First, I have broken out a section on the position of the Muslim Brotherhood. I think it is important to analyse their perspective separately because they are so important within society. Second I have tried to eliminate the timeline aspects in the last two sections (what is happening on the square and what is happening politically) and strengthen the analysis. Third, I added a section at the end looking at the most recent events and a section on how this could play out. Fourth, I made some minor updates to other sections (e.g. see in the latter part of sections on elecitons, role of army).

The pictures which I added to this post, I took in Mohammad Mahmoud Street on the Friday before the recent fights broke out, after I visited the large (pre-dominantly Brotherhood and Salafi) demonstration against the supra-constitutional principles. Graffiti has become an important form of Egyptian political expression. Most graffiti is done with stencils, free-hand is still relatively rare. If anyone knows the artists of the pieces, I would be happy to add the info.

Thanks for input for for updates to this post goes to Anja, Dani, Rehab, Mack, Chris and TJ.

What is this post about?

I just spoke with a friend at home and she said that she thinks the situation in Egypt right now “is very sad and that she hopes that the elections will go well, so that the country can finally get some stability.” This is pretty much the same feeling as is expressed by our governments. The Europeans and the American asked for violence to end for elections to proceed. The problem is, by now this might not be the real issue on the ground anymore. The developments however are moving so quickly, that they are hard to keep up with if you are not an ardent follower. Therefore I will try now to summarise some of the most important points and explain some bits and pieces. This post is meant for everyone abroad, if you have questions or find things unclear, please let me know!

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It seems the Egyptian elections are going to be entertaining –at least when looking at the election symbols! I proudly present the “Flowerpower Spaceship” and the “Toothbrush” candidates.

Update… more symbols below!

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Buildings on the Korniche north of Maadi, shot from Dahab Island

Yesterday I attended the blue march in Heliopolis. As part of the global “Moving Plantet” day, which is organized by the cut-carbon NGO, a group of young Egyptian hit the street to demonstrate for a better environment, less traffic, more public transport and to move away from fossil fuels. It was a surprisingly short march, but it was better attended than I had expected and the Cairo cyclists showed up in good numbers. Nevertheless I walked away unconvinced. I strongly believe that there is space for a green movement in Egypt and Cairo, but I think first the approach must be taken and put upside down.

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(Picture by Laura Mann – it shows my favourite election poster, with the exception of a poster for a local candidate in Malakal who promised to spread corruption.)

I know, you expect me to comment on the Sudanese elections. But I have been wrong too many times now about what was going to happen or how one can explain certain events. I will for now be a good historian, wait until everything is over, and then give you my enlightened, or maybe less enlightened opinion. Instead I will give you some links you can read and play with in the meantime.

The Electionnaire by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, where you can answer questions and find out, whom you would vote for and what the issues are (which noone really ever talked about).

SudanVoteMonitor which collects reports from all around the country on how the voting is going. They also have some fancy Google Maps overlay of all the incidents –think Web 2.0 meets Sudanese elections. A less fancy but possibly more substantial list of violations is published daily by the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies.

For news on the elections you can check the Southern Sudanese biased Sudan Tribune or you can check the differently biased Al Jazeera International. On the blog of some very distinguished Sudan academics you can read some intelligent commentary, I especially recommend the post on the complexity of the whole exercise. For some visuals you can check out the pictures my flat mate Laura took of campaign posters. She also posted translations of most of them.

Last but not least you can check out the website of a Sudanese anti-government pressure group called Girifna who has been quite outspoken lately.


I should start with a short disclaimer: This post is motivated by various discussions I had in Egypt about the West, especially after the recent killing of  an Egyptian woman in a German court. This is not an academic post in any sense. I basically threw together some thoughts and ideas. If I hope to do anything with this text, then it is an objectification of a currently very emotional debate –and be that only in the case of the two people who take the time reading it. If you have no idea who Marwa is, well start by having a look on Bikya Masr. They also report on the reactions in the Middle East.

The story of Marwa al-Schirbini has raised a number of questions, in the West as well as the Arab world. Most of these questions are legitimate, but the problem is, that the issues need to be disentangled. The issues at stake, as far as I understand it, are: Immigration in Europe and the failure of the multi-cultural society, the challenge of liberal societies how to react to non-liberal and anti-liberal currents within those societies, the new islamophobic currents and the old extreme right, popular ignorance and tendencies of reporting in modern media. Each of these issues is distinct, even if the boundaries at times may be illusive and overlapping.

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The upper chamber of the Parliament is burning. Being German that does give me the creeps. Anyway, it has been burning since hours and the fire fighters can’t get through. For a while they tried to attack the fire with helicopters – yes the ones which they usually use to fight fire in the jungle. That’s the urban jungle of Cairo for you. They seem to have given up on that though. I guess, when dropping water or powders from a great height in a city, the collateral damage would be rather devastating.





“The trouble with censors is that they worry if a girl has cleavage. They ought to worry if she hasn’t any.”

Marilyn Monroe


Censorship is an interesting phenomenon. Especially in modern times, when most countries are not able to censor anything but the official market for physical media. Recently the Egyptian government decided to censor the SPIEGEL SPECIAL edition on Islam. The decision was taken, because, as the government points out. the magazine is insulting to the prophet Muhammad. While censorship in case of the SPIEGEL magazine has become a lot more subtle in recent years, this is a stark reminder that it is still in place. Articles in the normal magazine covering Egypt or Islam are not anymore removed from the magazine, as they used to be five years ago and even naked women, when not printed too large, seem to be acceptable these days in a foreign language magazine.

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Imagine there is a strike and nobody shows up. Well, if the strike would have worked, that would have been precisely the goal. In that sense the altered Brecht quotation does not really fit totally. But first things first. Today was supposed to be a national strike here in Egypt. All workers and government workers in especially were called upon to stay at home today. As AFP points out: “It is unclear who initiated the call which snowballed after some 25,000 employees at the textile plant in Mahalla announced plans to strike from Sunday over low salaries and price hikes.” The call for a national strike seems to have appeared first on Facebook and made its way by SMS and email all around the country. The strike was supported by a large coalition of opposition parties, NGOs and other organisations. Additionally there was supposed to be protests in Cairo. The outlawed but popular opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, said it supported the strike but would not join it, as Voice of America puts it.

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I did not get to this earlier. Michael Arrington of TechCrunch fame argues based on the recent fines for Microsoft and the German and French government support for two search engines show that

“the EU is not willing to let free markets determine winners and losers. The winners must be home grown, at any cost. And U.S. companies that have too much success in Europe seem to face a bleak choice – massive fines or government-backed competitors.” (Link)

Mike is making an interesting point here, but I think he got that wrong. I actually think he got that as wrong as you can get it. But before putting my response let me just quickly note, that I do not question Mike’s right to have this opinion. Some of the commenters on the post believe that he should not comment on politics and some others argue that this is a typical American view point, etc. But I think Mike as everyone of course is entitled to comment on politics and being American it is only natural that he will take an American view point. Nevertheless let me argue why I think he got this specific issue (or better issues) wrong.

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