Before you read this blog post, stand up and turn around yourself once. See what you can see, experience any change, and then come back around in a new or similar state.

Perform a single revolution. You can even do it seated if you are in a swivel chair.

I am serious and will wait for you. It is good for the body to move anyways. Really. Go ahead.

A revolution is

  1. a forcible overthrow of a government or social order in favor of a new system. (rebellion, seizure of power, insurgency)
  2. an instance of revolving. (single turn rotation, spin)

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A revolution is a disruption and asks you to delay how you intended to operate online today: scroll, click link, scan and maybe read. A rotation is a vulnerable act in that you must turn your back to some things and focus on other things. It demands time. It can have anxiety in the need to come back around to facing the front, and an openness that maybe you will find a new front. There is the potential that after a revolution you will be facing a new enemy… or a familiar or morphed one.

In September, the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, a think tank connected to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, listed Egypt as the 4th country at greatest risk of state-led mass killings, ranking the threat above the violently divided states of Central African Republic and Yemen. TheSimon-Skjodt Center with Dartmouth on the Early Warning Project, a tool to alert policymakers and the public to places where the risk for mass atrocities is greatest.

And yes, celebrated and beautiful Masr (Egypt) simmers 4th on that list. The country where I hold a piece of my heart and a side of my family.

I care.

As a collective, we as the United States care for people and places very selectively and seemingly randomly. We cared about Paris. We cared about Rwanda, Northern Ireland and Bosnia (each eventually and briefly). We cared about Egypt intensely on January 25, 2011 and the 18 days following. This was five years ago tomorrow.

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Something sprung that few could define, and the following five years have been a desperate and fumbling attempt to find and feed those sprouts. The activists have been revolving,

As you read the following timeline, maybe take a single rotation yourself.

  • Mubarak regime has been in power since 1981 with a strong hand. Egyptians haven’t truly voted or demonstrated or grown an opposition party for generations. Lower-achieving students are told to study law. The Egyptian military runs hotels and gas stations and manufactures refrigerators and controls at least 40% of the economy. Corruption is fierce. Muslim Brotherhood is illegal and members are tortured; they conduct mass charity and operations underground.
  • U.S. led or backed devastating wars in the region
  • President Obama’s Speech at Cairo University in 2009 – Hope and change for the people of both Egypt and the U.S. “…tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations. Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Muslims.  The attacks of September 11, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights.  All this has bred more fear and more mistrust…. And this cycle of suspicion and discord must end. I’ve come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect.” 
  • Arab Spring sparks from Tunisia in December 2010
  • Egyptian Revolution in January-February 2011 – The People join together to demand bread, freedom and social justice. Toppling of Mubarak after decades of rule.
  • Arab Spring takes different forms and scale in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. U.S./UN Military intervention in Libya in March 2011
  • #July8 2011  A re-taking of the square after demands were not met and the revolution was unfulfilled. This, I was there for.

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  • Maspero television station massacre in October 2011 – Miltary versus protestors (mostly Coptic Christians and allies)
  • Mohamed Mahmoud St. battle in November 2011 – Military versus protestors, many of which were youth or artists labeled as thugs and vandals (approximately 50 killed and dozens maimed or blinded by ‘eye snipers’)
  • First Democratic elections in May-June 2012 – Mubarak’s prime minister versus Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Morsi. Many revolutionaries refuse to cast a valid vote and the U.S. supports the winner, Morsi. Egyptians unite in giving Morsi a chance.
  • The situation in Syria spirals into something beyond comprehension.
  • I move to Cairo as a U.S. Fulbright Scholar.
  • Anti-American demonstrations and storming of the embassy in September 2012 – Different than Benghazi but related in frustrations and perceptions of U.S. betrayal or lack of follow-through since Obama’s 2009 speech. Perhaps it was just over a video. There has been no creative changes to our diplomatic approaches or response to the Arab Spring.
  • Concrete walls go up around Tahrir Square and the surrounding area in Fall 2012 making pedestrian and auto traffic difficult. Logistically more difficult to gather.
  • Anti-Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood) demonstrations  in Tahrir Square in November 2012 – Progressives and opposition parties taking to the square after Morsi’s overreaching decrees. Lots of tear gas and some clashes
  • Presidential palace clashes in December 2012 – Paid thugs and security forces versus progressive and opposition protestors
  • Tamarod (revolt) grassroots campaign in Spring 2013 – Collects 22 million signatures in a petition for Morsi’s ouster
Tamarod petitioners
Tamarod campaigners
  • U.S. suspends and then cancels the Fulbright program in Egypt.
  • Arts and Culture uprising in April/May 2013 – Morsi’s administration replaces the Minister of Culture and more than a dozen staff with MB members who have little to no background in the arts. A law is proposed to ban ballet. The cast of Aida goes on strike. Artists occupy the Ministry building for 33 days, with a street performance each and every night.

Talking About a Revolution Won't Make You Liberal

  • Largest political demonstration in modern history according to Google on #June30 2013 – The People demand Morsi’s ouster.
  • ElSisi announces The People’s triumph and the plan for a diverse, bold transition government – ElSisi says there is no way he would run for president. People see that as inconceivable.
  • Muslim Brotherhood members are demonized and the organization is labeled as terrorist.
  • The headline on all state-run television is “Egypt is Fighting Terrorism.”
  • Rabaa massacre in August 2013 – Security forces versus Muslim Brotherhood protestors who were labeled as terrorists (817-1000 killed and there is no public mourning)
  • Supporting or empathizing with the Muslim Brotherhood members in any way is seen as a traitorous and illegal act.
  • Protest Law (Act 107) in November 2013 – The law requires three days notification and permit before protesting (often requiring that all protestors be pre-named and listed with home addresses); in addition, the Ministry of Interior has the right to “cancel, postpone or move” any protest.
  • Constitutional Referendum in January 2014 – Where citizens were giving the choice between yes (nam) and yes (nam) to ratifying the new constitution. Dissent is discouraged and seen as disloyalty or troublesome.
  • Law and order, investment, security and beautification are in season.
  • ElSisi is generally seen as a populist savior, a hero, and his picture can be seen everywhere.
  • Presidential election in June 2014 – Voter turnout is incredibly low and ElSisi wins with 93% of the vote. Turnout is so low that an additional day and a national holiday are added.
  • I demand the end of Blackface on Cairo stages but the petition is seen as an act of protest. I draw back. Rumors spread that I am racist and pro-MB.
  • Deadly attacks on police and military from Summer 2014 to present
  • Opening of a New Suez Canal with much nationalistic fanfare, continued investment of USAID (second highest in the world for the U.S., second only to Israel), artistic collaboration and exchange with Chinese artists, announcement of a new capital city that would rival Dubai in its advancement, economic forum in Egypt draws world leaders including Kerry, revitalized public park and underground parking for Tahrir Square, wifi on buses, billboards announcing a New Egypt go up in Times Square, new national museum in construction, Cairo Opera Ballet performs for Vladamir Putin, Islamic State terrorism in the Sinai and beyond, deadly crash of a passenger plane, Shaimaa el-Sabbagh is shot in broad daylight, visible reminders of the revolution are whitewashed or torn down, individuals and companies invest in education and the next generation of leadership, new subsidies and economic stimulus plans are introduced, as well as mass trials and mass death sentences, home searches without warrant, disappearances, and tens of thousands of political prisoners including journalists…
  • Hope, pride, disgust and anger mix in my belly, even as an in-law to Egyptian-ism.
A single revolution. Turning around yourself. Coming back to the front a different person, facing a new or morphed or familiar enemy. You are not the same person as when you started your turn. Even the fact that you decided to start turning says so much. You keep turning.
Here are four reads I suggest at this juncture:
1. “Egypt’s revolution has been misunderstood, and a great deal of that misunderstanding had been deliberate. An upheaval that began on 25 January 2011, and will continue for years to come, has been framed deceptively by elites both within Egypt’s borders and beyond. Their aim has been to sanitize the revolution and divest it of its radical potential. The Guardian‘s hope

2. Creative Time Report scathing in the face of the Obama administration for standing with Sisi.

3. I was terribly wrong. Journalists’ stories.

4. President Elsisi’s speech to the Egyptian people on the eve of the 5-year anniversary of the revolution – condemning the attacks on the police and military, and offering public support to the victims “I requested authorization to fight possible violence and terrorism in July [2013], you thought it would be easy. But you have seen the numbers of the martyrs who have fallen.”

 

Some Americans won’t care about this. They probably stopped reading long ago. But there is much to learn and inspiration to gain. We all have a radical potential and some times demand it. I believe this is one of those times.

Last week, our neighbor said this in conversation, “Talking about sex won’t get you pregnant. Talking about death won’t kill you.” Same holds true for revolution. We need to find the social courage to talk, no matter how uncomfortable the ignorance, or divide. As the rhetoric gets more violent in America, we need to find nonbelligerent ways of discussion. Talking about a revolution (of some definition) is something conservatives and liberals can do together. We have the same fire in our bellies and we share a system of decision-making.

The typical American adult lives only 18 miles from his or her mother, according to a comprehensive survey. Over the last few decades, Americans have become less mobile, and most adults do not live far from their hometowns. We are a country of close-knit families, leaning on one another for financial and practical support. 61-64% of Americans do not have passports.

According to Pew Research Center, nearly two-thirds (63%) of consistent conservatives and about half (49%) of consistent liberals say most of their close friends share their views; conservatives are likely to attach importance to living in a place where many people share their religious faith (Pew Research Center 2014). “Ideological silos are now common on both the left and right. Liberals and conservatives disagree over where they want to live, the kind of people they want to live around and even whom they would welcome into their families” (Pew Research Center 2014). I feel that this divide is intensifying during this politicized year in the United States and could reach a dangerous level of distrust and segregation if not addressed.

It can start with outrage, but we need a revolution of…

Body (in space and in and of itself, in relation to other bodies and the environment, the living body)

Mind (knowledge of heritage, history, questioning those narratives, critical thinking, self-awareness)

Spirit (belief, faith, hope, kindness, empathy, love, peace, joy, in touch with both positive and negative feelings)

 

Okay, time for a cheesy but lovely break. Thanks for reading. Take a minute to watch Tim McGraw’s video for Humble and Kind, based on Oprah’s Belief series.

 

 

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