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.

(Click here for the full Arabic and English lyrics to Ramy Donjewan's "Message to Tantawi")

Donjewan and Ahmed Rock attack the culture of impunity that hasn't put a single Egyptian policeman or officer behind bars for their crimes during the January 25th Revolution. They each also make it clear that Egyptians have broken the fear barrier once and for all and that they will stand up to SCAF very, very soon. Donjewan rhymes:
Your Excellency General Tantawi, were are the trials?
Where are rights of the masses and where are the rights of those who died?
Where are the rights of this country that was plundered for years in silence?
Where are the rights of the martyr who was oppressed until his death?
Your Excellency General Tantawi, the people are having their throats slit,
yet you don't care and your lies are laid bare.
...I'm not scared of you because my heart is a tank!
...If you don't do your duty, you will face the people and they will stand up to you!
Ahmed Rock takes up similar themes in the chorus of his song "No to Military Rule," where he furiously raps:
They seem to have forgotten who we are! They think that we're still scared!
We saw death in front of us and we stood there smiling!
We'll remind them, if they forget, that we're the generation of revolutionaries!
No matter how much the oppression against us increases, we'll break down all the jail cells!

(Click here for the full Arabic and English lyrics to Ahmed Rock's "No to Military Rule")

On November 16, when Ahmed Rock released "No to Military Rule," the January 25th revolutionaries seemed demoralized, reactive, and set to get their clocks cleaned in the upcoming parliamentary elections. One week later, their movement is completely revitalized and their enemy, SCAF, is fighting simply for self-preservation. Most importantly, Egyptian public opinion - the so-called "silent majority" - has been turning sharply against SCAF since September. The public, it seems, is back on the revolutionaries' side, and so is the momentum. Egyptians have many years of the hard work of political mobilization, social change, and institutional reform ahead of them, but they seem much farther along that difficult path now than they were a week ago. To keep up with developments, you can follow the Egypt list I made on Twitter. Peace.

Pre-January 25th Songs:
Ramy Donjewan - Against the Government
Revolution Records - Wa2t El Thawrageya
Revolution Records - Change is Forbidden  
Post-January 25th Songs:
Ahmed Mekky - 25 January
Ramy Donjewan - Message to Tantawi
Revolution Records - Down w/ Military Rule


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