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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Egypt, evolving.

Due to other projects I haven’t been able to devote as much time to this blog as I’d like to. I’m still staying relatively active on twitter, but my available time has been cut back rather substantially – I’m still following everything, but can’t always write it up. (I recommend that you follow my twitter feed - @ixakRubicon )

That being said, last week we hit a major milestone: Ramadan

For the past 6+ months, Fridays have been major action days for the Arab Spring. This is in large part because Friday prayers are the most important prayers of the week, and as a result many more people are in attendance at the evening services at the mosques. In the Muslim community the mosques themselves are community centers as well as religious centers, and as such have served as central locations for planning, organizing, gathering, and rallying the protests we’ve been watching for the past several months. Not only that, it is extremely dangerous for political leaders to forbid or restrict the Friday evening services because of their religious importance.

Because Ramadan is a time for contemplation and prayer, and most Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset (children, sick people, and the elderly can be exempted) the general energy level during the day is much lower. However, during Ramadan, every evening service is like Friday services so larger groups assemble more often, and word of mouth travels more quickly. Furthermore, the shared experience of Ramadan’s sunrise to sunset fasting creates a strong sense of community across the Muslim world.

Ramadan has brought with it a marked change to the political scene in Egypt - particularly in Tahrir Square.

Protesters returned to Tahrir square in early July to protest the slow progress of reforms, and the continued acts of corruption and brutality by elements within the government. As Ramadan approached, there was a great deal of debate over whether the tent community of protesters should continue to protest during the holy month. The majority of the protesters planned on going home for Ramadan, but many of the more enthusiastic protesters wanted to continue to camp out in their tents. This proved to be unwise. The general sentiment towards the protesters among Egyptians has been a steadily waning tolerance – many feel that enough of their demands have been met, and now it’s time to get back to work. As a result, the protesters have been steadily losing the support of the wider community. This reached its culmination on August 2, when armed police swept through the small tent villiage in Tahrir square, destroying tents and dispersing the protesters, arresting many in the process. Zeinobia, over at "Egyptian Chronicles" did some rewarding closer analysis of this.

The attitude of mainstream Islam is fairly mixed in its stance towards rebellion against authority (Great piece on the diversity among Egypts Islamists here) but protesting during Ramadan was pretty clearly beyond the pale for most Egyptians.

This steady swing of public sentiment away from the protesters was further strengthened by the Mubarak trial. The spectacle of Egypt’s dictator of forty years being brought in front of a judge to testify from the inside of a cage was a rather captivating one for Egyptians, as seen by the huge number of people glued to the TV for part one of the televised trial.

In the eyes of the general public, Mubarak’s trial seems to serve as a coda for the street protests. The protesters themselves probably don’t all feel this way, but based on the shifting attitudes of people whose twitter feeds I’ve been following for half a year, many of the die-hard activists and protesters are accepting the reality of the situation – the impetus for change must now take place within the coalescing Egyptian political system. 

The hard work of democratic reform – organizing, educating, public debate, fundraising, battling corruption, mobilizing voters – this is the next step for the activists. Perhaps less fun than hanging out in Tahrir, but unavoidable nonetheless.

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