Water cannon? Calling in the army? Shutting down or disrupting mobile phone messaging services and social networks in times of civil disorder? Oh the irony of ironies. Six months after my country’s dictator, Hosni Mubarak, stepped down after 18 days of a popular uprising, British Prime Minister David Cameron, members of parliament and the security services were seriously discussing those draconian measures in response to days of riots.
Forget nonsensical comparisons between the rioting and the Egyptian revolution. Compare instead the leaders’ uncannily similar reactions to what they perceive as crises. That’s what has my jaw to the ground here. Remember that Cameron and a whole host of other Mubarak allies roundly and rightfully condemned him for shutting down the internet, using water cannon against demonstrators, etc. It’s enough to make you wonder if Mubarak is moonlighting as a consultant on the most effective ways to chip away at civil liberties around the world as he awaits the next session of his trial for murder and corruption.
At a time when Egyptians are already boasting of how peaceful our protests were compared with those in the UK, to hear ordinary Brits join calls for their army to be deployed is a perfect moment to share some Egyptian revolutionary humour to combat the adulation of uniforms and “stability.”
“What about importing some of #LondonRiots hooligans when we have a sit-in in #tahrir?
We unleash them when the military police attacks,” tweeted blogger The Big Pharaoh.
During a visit to Egypt in the last week of July, I spent several nights in Tahrir to support a sit-in that called, among other things, for justice for families who lost loved ones during the revolution and to insist that Mubarak stand trial.
That same square which had finally earned its name (Liberation) – and which was one of many across the country to exercise a magical, magnetic pull on ordinary Egyptians to rise and rebel against Mubarak is now being occupied by military police and riot forces. And yet you talk about deploying the army on the streets of the UK?
We replaced one Mubarak with a supreme council of Mubaraks in the form of the military junta that currently runs Egypt. The revolution continues, as a banner in Tahrir read before the military violently broke up the sit-in on 1 August. And yet your leaders talk about shutting down social media?
Your prime minister is, after all, the same David Cameron who was the first foreign leader to visit Mubarak-free Egypt to say he was “inspired” by protesters but then spent the next three days touring the Gulf with eight of Britain’s leading arms manufacturers eager to sell weapons to despots eager to subdue any “inspiration” among their subjects to protest.
Allow me a moment of colonial digression; Egypt and Britain do after all have a history of misplaced lip service for freedom. When Lord Cromer was running the colonial show in the early 20th century, he developed a fervour for Egyptian women’s rights at the very time that women back home in Victorian Britain were infamously told to “lie back and think of England.”
I was born in Egypt and my family moved to London when I was seven. I grew up mostly in Clapham, where I also went to school after a brief stint in White Chapel. Images of a boarded-up Clapham Junction, where my little brother and I would spend our pocket money on magazines and fast food, tugged at my heart in the way that I ached at images from a Tahrir Square under attack by Mubarak’s security thugs.
While many Egyptians have been quick to point out that the violence during the revolution was mostly perpetrated by the regime, boasting how peaceful the majority of protesters were compared to those in the UK, some have also tried to understand the context of the rioting and the looting across English cities, especially from within the prism of social justice that has been a linchpin of many uprisings in the Middle East and north Africa.
After years of being stereotyped by violence and passivity in the face of brutal regimes, excuse us as we break free from that demonization to offer you some friendly advice: in times of crises, leaders – democratically elected or not – too easily invoke “stability” to run roughshod over civil liberties. I now live in New York City where we’re about to commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Remember Bush, the Patriot act, Guantánamo, etc?
Fight for your rights, UK, fight.
Don’t loot, don’t burn. Burn instead with moral indignation that your government could seriously consider measures that we rose up against and continue to fight in Egypt. We’re enjoying being the positive role model because, as blogger Wael Abbas said on Twitter recently, “Tahrir isn’t a place, it’s a state of mind.”
With that spirit in mind, The Big Pharaoh tweeted: “My British friends, I can lend you the brush I used to clean up #tahrir for #londoncleanup.” Let Tahrir inspire you to clean up and to rise up to protect your rights.