Thursday, November 24, 2011

How Egypt's Rappers Warned SCAF About the Current Uprising

As you're well aware, Egypt is in the midst of a revolutionary uprising against SCAF, the ruling military junta that took over after the January 25th Revolution forced Mubarak from power. This all started on Friday, November 18 when, with parliamentary elections just a few weeks way, various currents and movements of Egyptian Islamism came together for a huge rally in Tahrir Square. They were protesting how the latest draft of the constitutional principles document gives SCAF an overwhelming and permanent influence on Egyptian politics. Most of Egypt's liberal and leftist activists decided against participating because of their differences with the Islamist movements. The Islamist demonstrators went home that night, but about 200 mostly leftist protesters set up tents and staged a modest sit-in in Tahrir to air their grievances, including SCAF's attacks on free expression, its detention of prominent activists, its imprisonment of over 12,000 civilians through military tribunals, and its utter unwillingness to begin reforming any of Egypt's major institutions (particularly the Ministry of Interior's police and security forces) and hold them to account. So when security forces cavalierly stormed the Tahrir encampment and broke it up with extreme prejudice, they unexpectedly created the spark that ignited what could very well become the Second Egyptian Revolution of 2011.

News of the violence spread immediately. Thousands of people poured into Cairo's early morning darkness to confront the security forces and re-occupy Tahrir Square. Violence, tear gas, rubber bullets, bird shot, and reported live ammunition have only inspired more people to join the protests. The past few days have seen Egypt's largest demonstrations since the January 25th Revolution - not only in Cairo but in cities throughout the country, most notably Ismailia and Alexandria. The fiercest fighting has been on Mohamed Mahmoud street, which links Tahrir Square to the nearby Interior Ministry. At least 30 people have died so far, but the protests and sit-ins and clashes have only grown in size and intensity. The protests have passed an important threshold because the security forces cannot forcefully disperse them with anything short of a horrific massacre that would destroy SCAF's ability to govern. SCAF can only get the protesters off the streets with a political solution - and the protesters know it. SCAF has therefore offered concessions by apologizing for "deaths of the martyrs" and promising to hand over power to a civilian government in June. The protesters, though, say they will not stop until SCAF steps down from power and hands the country over to a "national salvation government" that represents the full spectrum of Egyptian politics [update on November 30th: well, the elections broke up the protests in a way the security forces could not. There will definitely be more demonstrations in the coming months, though]

One striking aspect of the current uprising is the prescient way in which revolutionary Egyptian rappers Ramy Donjewan and Ahmed Rock of Revolution Records had threatened SCAF that it would come. Such an uprising seemed far-fetched this summer, when the revolutionaries' continuous sit-ins at Tahrir Square and aloofness from the concerns of ordinary Egyptians turned public opinion overwhelmingly against them. The Egyptian blogger Zeinobia powerfully documented their missteps in a soul-searching blog post from August 3rd. During this gloomy, demoralizing summer, Ramy Donjewan released a brash, brave, and profoundly threatening song entitled "Message to Tantawi." In the chorus, he raps in a haunting tone:
The blood of my brothers is so expensive, so precious, O Tantawi,
and we will NOT be threatened.
And what happened before can happen again, O Tantawi,
if our demands are not implemented.