I will not comment on yesterday’s events in Mokattam near the Brotherhood headquarters. I’ve commented enough on Twitter. In this post I want to share with you yet another dose of long term optimism for this country.
A few days ago I had an interesting discussion with a medical student at Al Azhar University. Al Azhar University is the education branch of Al Azhar. It is far more conservative than Egypt’s “secular” universities. Most of its faculties are religion studies based yet it does have other faculties such as medicine and engineering. Male and female students are segregated and my friend told me that there is only one female student that does not wear the head cover. The MB and Salafi political forces are in total domination there.
My friend, who is in his 4th college year, told me that he has a friend, another Al Azhar University student, who plays the guitar. He was intimidated to take it with him on campus and he just plays in his dorm room. There is no law at the university that bans students from getting musical instruments, he was just not so sure how the students and the Islamists who control the campus would react towards the stringed intruder.
A few days ago his friend woke up in the morning, grabbed his guitar and walked to campus. He played and students reacted very positively.
“People have changed,” said my friend. “We’re not afraid any more and people are now confronting the radicals”.
I have written before about how I feel that our society is changing as a result of the Islamists reaching power. The halo that they have been sporting during Mubarak is gradually diminishing and many Egyptians, especially the youth, are now starting to have second thoughts about the Islamists and this proves the latter’s unprecedented drastic defeat in the recent student union elections.
“We’re even having a music and acting competition next month at our faculty. Can you imagine that?” continued my startled friend. It seems his friend’s guitar casted a spell that no one can stop.
In the early 70s, president Sadat was facing fierce opposition from communist and nasserite* students on university campuses around the country. His regime did something somehow reminiscent to what the CIA did in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion. To fight the leftists, on campus and elsewhere, Sadat ordered the release of thousands of Islamists from prison and brought hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood leaders from exile. His State Security apparatus aided Islamists on campuses to counter the influence of the leftist students who were extremely powerful back then. Sadat’s plan worked. Islamists surprisingly won the student union elections in a period that marked the end of Egypt’s social liberal age that commenced in the twenties and spanned till the seventies.
The student union elections victory might seem to be insignificant among other national elections. However, a close look at today’s Muslim Brotherhood leaders show that many of them were born out of these elections. People like Abdel Meniem Aboul Fotouh, Helmi el Gazar and Essam Al Arian were all active in the student movement back in the seventies. Even Hamdeen Sabahy, a nasserit though, was also part of this student movement.
Fast forward to today. For the past two days, we have been hearing astounding news coming from universities across Egypt. The MB has been losing one student union elections after the other to various independent coalitions and revolution parties such as Baradei’s Dostour Party, Hamdeen Sabahy’s Popular Current and Aboul Fotouh’s Strong Egypt Party. In many of these universities, students ignored the political inadequacy of their aged party leaders and teamed up against the MB to deal it a massive blow for the first time in over 40 years. During Mubarak’s era, State Security had to intervene to prevent the MB from winning in the universities.
The student union elections indicate two things. First, the elections showed what I’ve stated before about the MB losing support within the university students segment and the urban cities in general. The youth were behind the revolution, many of those killed were students themselves; these students saw how the MB betrayed the revolution for their own political interests. In addition, university students in general are critical and they’re more exposed to social media. And the MB is definitely losing the media war in spite of their control over the most powerful media arsenal: the state-owned media
Second, I believe that just as the seventies student union elections gave birth to many of the MB leaders we see today, these elections and the student movement in general will pave the way for young leaders to rise. This time they won’t be Islamists though. The Egypt revolution was leaderless. We didn’t have a Lincoln, we didn’t have a Lech Walesa. The current politicians proved to be inadequate and are far outpaced by the revolution’s youth. The leaders will have to come from the womb of the revolution. It will take sometime though but it won’t take another 40 years. Things are moving at an unbelievable pace. Who would have imagined that the MB would lose student elections in Assiut and Benha?!
Finally, there is something for your to ponder about. The seventies student union elections marked the beginning of the radicalisation of Egyptian society. Are we witnessing a reverse?
*Nasserites = adherants to Nasser’s ideology.