Non Violent Vigilante

'There is but one coward on this Earth, the coward that dare not know', W.E. Dubois.

How much is that revolution in the window?

As the revolution continues in Cairo, demonstrators are surrounding the Interior Ministry and filling downtown with anti-SCAF slogans. Tear gas regularly fills the air and there’s no longer any doubt that the police, or at least the plain clothes baltagiyya (thugs) employed by the police, have been using birdshot to disperse the crowds. Outspoken blogger Selma Said’s admission to Qasr al Aini hospital with a face peppered with cartridge shrapnel is the most recent in a slew of casualties. The men and women bravely putting their lives on the line in downtown Cairo are fighting for freedom from oppression not only for themselves, but for all Egyptians. And rightly so. 

But the demographic of the protestors doesn’t reflect those most in need. The protestors take photos on their iphones, upload them onto twitter and publish blogsite articles before they’ve even left the front line. They are armed not only with the power of technology, but also with the intellectual conviction of their ideas and, in some cases, the English to be able to explain it to the rest of the world. 

Meanwhile the majority of Egyptians can’t even afford to take the time off work to participate.

The horrifying truth is that taking the day off to protest is a luxury that most can’t afford. Taking to the streets can represent the difference between your family eating dinner or going hungry that day. In some parts of the Nile Delta for example, earning ten Egyptian pounds ($1.65) a day would be considered a good wage. If a kilo of beef shoulder meat from the local butcher costs 50 Egyptian pounds, the best that a relatively well-off family in the Delta could expect is to eat meat once or twice a month.

This is not a criticism of the protestors in the streets. Their demands and their need for change are important too; they have been deeply wronged by the perpetuation of government negligence and corruption. If anything, the shackles of the working class highlight the desperate need for the protestors to stand up in defence of those for whom protest is impossible. 

One year ago today (11th Feb) Hosni Mubarak stepped down. His resignation came after eighteen days of unprecedented public protest and enormous labour strikes that ground the economy to a halt. To mark the anniversary of his departure, a general strike had been arranged to express the workers’ continuing dissatisfaction with their lack of protection and abysmal wages. The national transport authority, the train drivers union and countless factories announced they would not go into work today. 

Sadly, the strike was not as large as most would have hoped. And the reason is simple enough: The government, the army and factory owners have together, over the past few weeks, waged a campaign of intimidation threatening workers with being fired if they don’t show up. 

And so the ruling class’ triumph is complete: the price of putting pressure on the status quo to improve basic living standards has in itself become too expensive. Sacrificing unionised rights and political freedom for the meantime is worth the four pieces of bread, the handful of vegetables and the packet of cigarettes that a day’s wage can afford.  

The responsibility of voicing the demands of those most trapped in the cycle of poverty therefore falls on the middle classes. Marx was never more right than when he said: ‘Those who cannot represent themselves must be represented’.

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