Al-Ahram Weekly Online   21 - 27 April 2011
Issue No. 1044
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

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Salama A Salama

Square tactics

By Salama A Salama

"The people and the army are one hand." Under this slogan the army protected the revolution and kept its promise of not firing on protesters. Million man marches have gone on for weeks, keeping the wheels of change in motion. The people took the lead, the nation exercised patience, and the ruling Higher Council of the Armed Forces obliged.

Then things started to get out of hand. Protests were held for the sake of protesting and unsavoury characters joined in. Last Friday, the chaos became unbearable, especially when military personnel joined the demonstrators and were given refuge in the square. At one point, it became hard to tell who the revolutionaries were and who was hanging around to take advantage of the chaos. And as the protesters insisted on defying the curfew, their motivation became unclear.

Some would defend such actions. Some would sympathise with the protesters, revolutionary or not. After all, there is the allure of protest, the magic of a revolution that was long in coming.

But let me tell you this. A gap is growing, and not just between the army and the people. Ordinary people are tired of protests that disrupt their businesses without adding much to the gains of the revolution. In Tahrir Square, shopkeepers are annoyed at the protesters, and in the countryside, people are suffering from the damage done to tourism and production in general.

When the army stepped in to terminate the sit-in on Friday it was accused of using excessive force. But its action is otherwise understandable. It cleared the square and arrested 150 people; some of them had acted illegally and a number were military personnel, or former military personnel. Can you really blame the army for wanting to keep discipline in its ranks? Can you blame an organisation whose entire life is based on strict obedience when it chases down members who broke rank? No army in the world, as far as I know, allows personnel to demonstrate in their army uniforms.

The revolution needs to protect itself. To do so it must be on its guard against counter-revolution. It must keep its purity unblemished and its goals unsullied. The revolution must maintain the legitimacy that won it the support of the nation.

Finally, the revolutionary youth helped the army clean the square. They helped remove the barbed wire and the burned vehicles. When the square was being cleaned up, the army found a stash of firebombs ready for use. This is the kind of thing the revolution must not allow.

The revolution needs to make up its mind. Its supporters should agree on a code of honour for demonstrations. They should keep their rules of engagement precise and clear. This is the kernel of collective action they need to remain relevant. This is the foundation on which to build a consensus that would help them through the coming elections and the writing of a constitution.

Mubarak is out and his sons are behind bars, along with the top lieutenants of his regime. The country is moving down the road to democracy and needs to keep its momentum. This is why protests should be used solely to protect the goals of the revolution.

We have a lot of work to do. For one thing, we need to get the economy going once more. With tourism losing $40 million a day, a budget deficit running at 11.8 per cent, and foreign reserves depleting, we cannot afford to lose more time. In a recent television appearance, Major- General Ismail Osman said that our foreign reserves had dipped from $36 billion to $30 billion in a couple of months. A scary prospect, right?

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