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Swarthmore Students and Faculty Demonstrate Solidarity with the Egyptian People

February 2, 2011

As over one million protestors were flooding the streets of Egypt’s cities, a group of about 60 students and faculty crowded into Shane Lounge in Parrish Hall yesterday afternoon to march in solidarity with the Egyptian people.

The Swarthmore event, a joint effort between the Middle Eastern Cultural Society (MECS) and Students for Peace and Justice in Palestine (SPJP), was a small but passionate display of solidarity with the Egyptian people as they called for an end to President Mubaruk’s corrupt and abusive 32-year regime.

While the TV overhead played Al-Jazeera’s streaming coverage of the protests in Egypt, students affixed handmade signs that read “Enough” in Arabic and quoted Dr. King in English.

“We originally wanted to do something bigger with the Arab Student Association at the University of Pennsylvania,” said Dina Sharhan ’12, one of the coordinators of MECS. “[But] we still wanted to spread awareness and show support. There were no support events in Philly that we could have joined.”

“We wanted to bring the situation to peoples’ attention, to solidify our cause for freedom and for ending an oppressive regime. I expected more people to come, but the faculty’s presence was a really good influence,” said Marina Tucktuck ’13, a coordinator from MECS.

Before the march Nidal Alayasa ’11, whistled to get the crowd’s attention.

“Let’s get started,” he said.

Like the protests in Egypt, this event had no single leader. Participants represented a broad cross-section of Swarthmore’s demographics.

“This is a revolt of the people against tyranny,” said Alayasa. “Our group wanted to bring this struggle to attention and demonstrate support for people dying on the streets for their freedom. The only way for freedom to happen is through uniting.”

“Today we are all Egyptian!” one marcher shouted as the group began to move.

Outside of Parrish, the group sang “We Shall Overcome” as they marched toward Sharples Dining Hall.

The march continued through Sharples, where some surprised-looking students stopped eating to watch.

“Kifaya, enough, it’s time for freedom, democracy!” sang the marchers, chanting the Arabic word for “enough.”

The marchers then headed uphill and into McCabe Library, saying “Mubaruk out, Egypt up!” before being asked to leave the library.

“If America were to support the [Egyptian] people for once, it would be good for [America’s] image in the Middle East,” said Alayasa, after the march. “More importantly, it would be good for the people.”

  • Soren Larson

    "We wanted to bring the situation to peoples’ attention, to solidify our cause for freedom and for ending an oppressive regime."

    While the goals of these protestors are laudable, it's somewhat naive to believe that freedom and democracy just spring up in Egypt after the fall of their tyrant. The fall of a dictator and even the holding of free elections are not sufficient conditions for democracy to arise. The experiences of the Ukraine and Georgia, as well as those of Afghanistan and Iraq provide good evidence for this. Social networks might be good at organizing protestors, but they're not well suited for coalition building. And right now the two most powerful groups are the Egyptian military and the Muslim Brotherhood. So if Egyptians want freedom, they'd better get busy in organizing themselves.

  • Chris Fortunato

    Soren: Action > Inaction

    Also I believe this comic reflects your/my/everyone's concerns:

  • Soren Larson

    Your inequality doesn't always hold, it certainly doesn't hold here, and it is naive to think so either way.

    There seem to be two possible outcomes here, though I suppose there could be more, notably *not* including, however, the quick and painless rise of freedom and democracy.

    First, if the protests don't succeed, then Mubaruk's cronies will rule the streets to ensure no protests like these ever regenerate. The middle class will live in a state of fear. Or, (2) Mubaruk will fall, in which case the Muslim Brotherhood is best positioned to gain considerable control, and won't be the ones to usher in the kind of freedom the protesters at Swat apparently desire. Obviously, it is the `action' (and not inaction) you laud that will bring one of these events to pass, and neither of them are particularly desirable for Egyptians or American foreign policy interests relative to the former status quo, at least in the short run. So it's not true that action > inaction. It could be that you meant the inequality casually (yeah, this is the DG), but note that I just offered one counterexample (amongst many others I'm willing to offer) to show the inequality is false.

    Note finally that I'm *NOT* contending that Egyptians don't deserve or are incapable of achieving a free and democratic state. Rather, the specific hindrances I enumerate are consistent with typical issues revolutions face in overthrowing tyrants and in institution building.

  • Danielle Charette

    Soren makes unpopular yet eloquent points. While the uprisings are noble, this event is far, far more complicated than the article or Swarthmore event yesterday concedes. The spontaneity of the protest does not necessarily spell democracy. In fact, the situation has frightening parallels to Iran in the months of 1978. Indeed, the U.S. propped up the Shah, but theocracy proved an even more formidable foe. Of course, it wouldn't be a stretch to draw parallels between Carter and Obama either…

    Free elections spurred Hamas in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon, etc. While Tunisia has a comparatively higher democratic class, Egypt and Jordan do not. Keep in mind that the Muslim Brotherhood holds roughly the same proportion of parliamentary power as the Nazis did on the eve of Hitler's rise, and the Bolsheviks did on the cusp of the Russian Revolution.

    Egypt's leadership in the Arab League and its peace agreement with Israel are all up in the air. I'd love, love, love to see democracy arrive in Egypt. Let's pray it happens, but approach this issue with caution and realism.

  • TD

    "Keep in mind that the Muslim Brotherhood holds roughly the same proportion of parliamentary power as the Nazis did on the eve of Hitler's rise, and the Bolsheviks did on the cusp of the Russian Revolution."

    Danielle, I have been a long time supporter of your cause on this campus (the bringing intellectual diversity part), but you are clearly losing it.

  • Brendan Work

    To wit, Danielle: You are now sharing the ugly, smelly “I’d love to see democracy, but…” tent with every dictator in the last century, not least of them the three you mentioned. Self-determination is an absolute right. It is not conditioned on American foreign policy interests, oil prices, Israel’s famously indefinable security concerns, or how easily tourists can get to the Pyramids. If you would like to know who else opposes the revolution in Egypt, you will find some of the strangest bedfellows seen outside of Krunkfest: (Sunni) Hamas, (Shi’i) Ahmedinejad, and (Zionist) Netanyahu all agree that Mubarak has the right to suppress peaceful demonstrators by throwing concrete blocks on their heads from tall buildings. Do you?

    The major problem with your argument is that it hinges on an embarrassing, archaic idea of a “democratic class” that some dark people countries might have, but the Islamic ones probably don’t. I encourage you to question this nonsense very seriously. Is it the presence of Christians that determines a country’s democratic credentials? Tunisia is 1% Christian, Egypt is 10% Christian, and Lebanon 39%. Is it literacy rates? Egypt and Tunisia are both around 72% and Lebanon is 87%. Ninety percent of those unready Jordanians can read and the average kid stays in school for 13 years. But I’m afraid your calculation has nothing to do with literacy or religious diversity. Tell me if I’m wrong, but I think that in your estimation a country is “ready for democracy” if it willingly accepts war crimes against Palestine, destructive free trade policies of the World Bank, and occasionally takes the blame when American missile strikes kill civilians.

    Soren, no doubt your economist’s approach to “institution building” will win you golf claps in policymaking circles, but I think a lot of Egyptians would laugh at you. People already know how to “organize themselves,” as you somewhat patronizingly suggest. Who’s setting up neighborhood watches? And who’s throwing Molotov cocktails into the National Museum? I’ll give you one guess which group gets part of your taxes. I agree with you that rebuilding Egypt requires the conscious, cautious efforts of all Egyptians to ensure that the military and the Muslim Brotherhood don’t snatch up their hard-won successes. But I think you and other conscientious conservatives need to step up and help out in that effort, instead of just shrugging and providing half-hearted apologies for Mubarak.

    To the SPJP folks foolishly marching around in the snow: keep at it. I can’t speak for Egyptians, but I will say that a sizeable majority of Palestinian taxi drivers in the Bethlehem area are aware of the wide gulf between Americans and American foreign policy. That is to your credit.

  • Soren Larson

    Brendan, I'm not sure we disagree here, and I'm not trying to be patronizing. You agree that we have good reason to be concerned about the Muslim Brotherhood `snatching up control' and that Egyptians will have to work hard to prevent it. That's what I said.

    But your last sentence to me is ridiculous. "But I think you and other conscientious conservatives need to step up and help out in that effort, instead of just shrugging and providing half-hearted apologies for Mubarak."

    Recall that in 2003 Bush launched a freedom campaign in which he made some strong remarks about how previous U.S. propping up of oppressive regimes for ostensible political convenience wasn't strong long-term U.S. policy and could have the disastrous consequence of encouraging the `exporting' (his words) of terror to the U.S, due to the U.S.'s apparent disinterest in freedom for all people. For this campaign, the left derided him, calling his plan a `freedom crusade.' So the last time conscientious conservatives tried to help out, they were lambasted by the left. So it's not as if conservatives haven't `stepped up to help' in the past. Maybe you should detail what `stepping up to help' entails.

  • Open Your Eyes

    Funny, Soren, I seem to have forgotten that Bush was our Freedom Campaign president. Jog my memory: was ending US support for Mubarak part of his freedom over politics strategy? Your willingness to believe rhetoric instead of actions is precisely the kind of thing that makes you doubt the Egyptian's ability to organize–something they have done mightily in the past few weeks.

  • Soren Larson

    Open Your Eyes- I guess your memory must be going.

    Recall Bush's speech at the National Endowment of Democracy:

    "Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe—because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty. As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment, and violence ready for export."

    When the Egypians jailed a political opponent, Condoleezza Rice protested it by canceling a planned trip to Cairo in 2005; the prisoner was released.

    Also, recall the left's (and perhaps your) response to his campaign. The American Prospect claimed Bush was a propagator of short term American interests, and while the editors concede he'd made progress in Iraq, the editors lambaste him for condoning the abuses in Indonesia, Russia and China. I'm not familiar with the case in Indonesia, but given the global clout of Russia and China, it's rather quixotic to expect the US to start criticizing these `allies' with which its ties were weak and of critical importance.

    Finally, please verify this, but it seems like you're claiming in your sentence

    "…you doubt the Egyptian's ability to organize–something they have done mightily well in the past few weeks"

    that organizing via twitter is the same thing as generating political parties and their agendas, choosing leaders for these parties, and maintaing institutional integrity. If you are, then you'll want to defend this claim. If you aren't, please be more precise while trying to `open my eyes' and explain what you mean.

  • Phil Chodrow

    In an attempt to make myself even more unpopular on the DG than I am by now, here are some thoughts.

    In general, I think Soren is on point in indicating the difficulties presented by the tasks lying between the protests and a democratic Egypt. In this particular case, it looks as though supporting the current regime would likely be both undesirable and impracticable. If this is true, then Chris and Brendan are right in pointing out that we need to do what we can to support a stable and acceptable new government. Soren, I think that this is at least part of what Brendan has in mind by “stepping up to help:” helping to build stable democracies when autocrats have already fallen, rather than trying to destabilize existing regimes.

    However, Brendan, I’m not sure your savaging of Danielle is fair here.

    I’m not going to touch your associating her with dictators, but I am interested in the right to self-determination. Let’s assume there is such a right (not obvious, but plausible to me). What does it demand of us?

    Consider: various nations have undergone ostensibly democratic revolutions in the past, only to wind up as horrifyingly autocratic states (yes, Germany, Soviet Russia, Iran). What went wrong here? Perhaps the democratic revolution was hijacked by someone who never had democratic aspirations (Hitler, Lenin/Stalin, Khomeini)? Perhaps the revolution hit a political wall somewhere, and degenerated into tyranny? Some of both? And perhaps other things entirely? The problem here is that identifying the content of that right to self-determination is easy as a *critical* task. For instance, the right to self-determination means that Israel has certain moral obligations to Palestine. But would the right to self-determination demand that the U.S. have supported the various odious revolutions above? How are we to know, except in retrospect?

    My point here is simply that supporting a given revolution is not always in the interest of the people of a nation, not even those participating in that revolution. It seems very cloudy to me whether we would incur duties to protect the ability to “self-determine” of a given people when carrying out those duties stands good chances of making their lives concretely worse.

    Why would such revolutions fail? This leads us to Danielle’s term “democratic class.” I don’t much care for the term, but let me suggest that there is some insight behind it. I take the point to be similar to the one Zakaria makes in /The Future of Freedom/ on the relationship between democracy and liberality. One of Zakaria’s primary arguments in the book is that liberality is a more-or-less necessary condition for healthy democracy. Illiberal democracies don’t do well, going the way of various failed revolutionary governments. A related argument is that democracies, in general, do best when they form peacefully from the gradual liberalization of authoritarian regimes, not rapid revolution.

    Is Egypt sufficiently liberal to sustain a healthy democracy? I don’t know nearly enough about what’s on the ground there to know. Let me suggest, however, that the considerations above have something to do with a “democratic class.”

    Liberalism in the relevant sense here is correlated with a number of things, among them education. Liberal principals, such as the primacy of the individual, the government as a mediator of obligations between citizens, and the value of political and civil liberties, do best in environments with healthy educational infrastructure, reliable sources of comprehensive reporting, and comparative peace. Where such correlates are lacking, liberal ideals are unlikely to thrive, and where these ideals are unlikely to thrive, so is democracy.

    For better or for worse, education in particular correlates with class. The existence of a healthy, politically engaged middle class is an almost-prerequisite for successful democratic governance. Such a middle class sustains a civic society, which in turn is one of the great stabilizers of a democratic regime. When such a class is absent, or becomes hollowed out, we face the dangers of plutocracy which present themselves to us today.

    Successful democracy requires liberalism, and liberalism is a class-correlated phenomenon. So, while I wish Danielle had said “liberal political culture” rather than “democratic class,” I do think that she’s on to a potential real problem for successful democratization. Whether or not Egypt has the political culture it will need to thrive as a democracy is a question for someone who knows much more than I.

    Peace all,

  • Brendan Work

    Phil, please. In the time it took you to ask nine questions and answer them all with variations of “I don’t know,” you could’ve watched, depending on how fast you type, fifteen to thirty minutes of Al Jazeera’s live feed from Tahrir Square and figured out for yourself “what’s on the ground.” Mute it if you don't want the commentary, but watch it.

    In any case, you do not decide when Egypt is sufficiently liberal. Whether this is a repeat of 1989, 1979, or 1776, you have a responsibility as a Swarthmore academic to not gaze directly into your navel. I’m sure you’re familiar with Edmund Burke. Right now you are stalling and fumbling with terms and wringing your hands, and you are the good man doing nothing.

  • The Rock

    Brendan Work layeth the smacketh down.

  • Phil Chodrow

    Unfortunately, I’ll have to admit to not quite grasping the smacketh down. Though Brendan, I do take your critique of my style. I have a penchant for expressing uncertainty, and I certainly won’t claim to be a great writer of analytical prose. However, I don’t think I understand the direction of your substantive critique.

    Here’s how I’ve read the relevant part of the conversation. Soren and Danielle raised some doubts over whether Egypt is or is not able to sustain healthy democracy, a question which is directly related to your implied assertion that we have duties to support the protesters. In the course of this discussion, you savaged Danielle for suggesting that the question implicates the existence of a “democratic class.”

    My purpose in posting went something like this. First, I was interested in your claim that self-determination is an absolute right for all people, and to at least point out that the claim is distinctively murky. The implication, if we want to draw one, is that I don’t know the answer and I doubt that you do either. I also wanted to argue that there might be something to Danielle’s point about a democratic class, though I’d disagree with her language. The existence of such a class in Egypt is an open question, and watching Al Jazeera won’t answer it.

    To your criticisms:

    Is it to me to decide whether Egypt is sufficiently liberal? Of course not. And even were I an expert, my analysis would likely have little impact on the trajectory of events. My claim is simply this: it is not to me to decide, but it is to me to point out the relevance of the question, and to point out the difficulty in finding its answer. You apparently deny this difficulty, or are not very interested in investigating it. Fine by me, but your attempt to persuade the uncertain will inevitably involve taking part in that discussion.

    Is it obvious that all this is irrelevant? Am I missing something? To me, the question of whether or not we should support the protests must implicate the question of whether or not Egypt is prepared for democracy. Is this simply irrelevant? Unworthy of discussion? So radically intractable as to offer nothing but frustration? Perhaps—but to my mind, if the question of Egypt’s preparedness for democracy is irrelevant, misguided, or intractable, then so is the question of whether or not we should support the protesters.

    I’m not quite sure what you have in mind in accusing me of doing nothing. Of course you’re right—like many Swatties, I am doing homework, eating in Sharples, and spending too much time on the Daily Gazette, among other things. None of this involves the situation in Egypt. On the other hand, I’m not stalling, since I have nothing to stall for, not fumbling with terms, unless I am a worse writer than I thought, and not wringing my hands, because I feel no anguish. I am doing nothing with respect to this situation. Some of my reasons for this are practical; I am not sure how I would help, and not sure that my time couldn't be better spent in another fashion. A better reason for doing nothing is that I don’t know what something I should be doing. Should I instead be acting unreflectively? I’m skeptical, but to that I’ll have to throw another of those odious “I don’t know”s.

  • Common Sense


    It seems like you do nothing but say "I don't know" and critique other people's opinions. It would probably more worthwhile as a world citizen to form an opinion on the actual issue instead of deciding to bury your head in the sands of philosophical "I don't knows."

  • Soren Larson

    Common Sense-

    What value does an opinion have if the conditions that motivate its logic are murky?

  • three cheers for thoughtfulness

    So normally I love the weird insults that get tossed around on the Daily Gazette, but I can't even express how dumb it is to excoriate Phil for expressing reasoned uncertainty. I think Soren, Danielle, and Phil have a noble purpose in suggesting we carefully consider our knee-jerk sympathies for peaceful protest and the end of Mubarak's terrible reign, notwithstanding some unfortunate turns of phrase. Not because we'll end up being wrong (I doubt it) but because it's irresponsible (even as "world citizens") not to wonder why it is we think what we think and confront the vast gulf of what it is we don't know.

    I might point out that this is Egypt's revolution and the opinions of several concerned Swarthmore Students on the matter are woefully poorly-informed and woefully insignificant (except insofar as they convey greater complexity in our own thoughts, I suppose, to one or another Palestinian taxi driver).

  • Throw Me a Blanket

    If I'm ever on fire, don't show me solidarity…

  • Anti-Flammability Activist

    Throw Me a Blanket, I promise not to waste time showing solidarity. I'll skip directly to raising awareness.

  • gurr

    I'd like to raise some awareness that anyone whose basic reaction has not been to identify with the people of Egypt over their dictatorial rulers is probably massive douchebag who should rethink everything about their politics and maybe themselves.

    Confront the vast gulf of what it is you don't know by watching some goddamn al-Jazeera English, not by going "ooooh ooooh but maybe Egypt needs a strong ruler to keep them from going all terroristy".

  • Danielle Charette, 14

    Gurr, I don't think ANYONE on this thread has made some sort of off-handed "terrorist-y" remark. That's a little below the belt to say of Soren, Phil, and myself, along with others who might be curious about various perspectives on this event.

    I completely support the Egyptian people's call to rid their nation of Mubarak's autocracy. Indeed, I believe the only public figure who paid lip-service to the notion that Mubarak is not a dictator was Joe Biden. Please recall, it was Obama in 2009, who during the infamous "Cairo speech" proclaimed Mubarak to be "a force of stability and good in the region." As they stand, the protests have been remarkably inspiring, brave, and, for the most part, quite peaceful. Political repression and economic deprivation are more than enough motivation to overthrow an 82 year old despot who's clung to power for 30 years. This next remark may be unpopular since I'm quoting our defamed former president….but George W. Bush was absolutely right that there's no such thing as an "Arab exception" to democracy. All people deserve freedom, and the Egyptians are presently making this fact all the more clear. What W. underestimated was that liberal democracy can not swiftly sweep the Middle East without a commitment from people and leaders alike. This is the concern–with echos of revolts gone bad in 1789, 1917, and, most relevantly, 1979.

    Egypt's population of 80 million gives it a lot of thrust in the Arab League, which means we need Egypt to continue it's pioneering attitude towards Arab media, women's emancipation, and peace with Israel. Nonetheless, the Muslim Brotherhood is parroting the tactics that brought Khomeini to power in Iran. I'm not sure why why earlier post about the Brotherhood's parliamentary representation was sneered at. In fact, before Mubarak's manipulation of the most recent election, the Brotherhood gripped 88 seats.

    My comment about a "democratic culture" received some flack. Obviously, I'm a fan of the ballot-box, but, when citizens are handed little more than a ballot in a vacuum–without the liberal spirit that ought to accompany political participation–as a symbol for a liberal republic, the results are concerning. Look at Hamas (the Brotherhood's offshoot). Look at the shake-up in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia.

    I'm hopeful for Egypt. But, hope alone does not sustain an entire region from tumult.

  • Phil Chodrow

    Actually Danielle, I’m going to have to go with gurr on this one. gurr, thanks for your point. I had suspected that I might be a massive douchebag, but I appreciate your taking the initiative in dispelling my uncertainty. I will be rethinking everything about my politics as soon as I’m done a). posting here and b). finishing up this week’s problem set. Since it’s a busy time with NinjaGram and all, I’ll postpone rethinking everything about myself until after Valentine’s Day.

    Since, as you aptly point out, there is no relevant difference between intellectually oppressing the people of Egypt and wondering about their fate, I see now that I’ve been on the side of authoritarianism all along. Woops! My bad! I’ll try to be more democratic and human-rights-y next time.


  • Gollum

    Brendan Work has my precious.

  • Anti-Flammability Activist

    Slavoj Zizek has a fantastic piece on the whole affair from a radical leftist standpoint:
    In other news, I didn't realize that poking gentle fun at Swat culture amounted to opposing the people of Egypt. I've learned a valuable lesson today about comment threads. Guess I'll have to stick to Missed Connections.