Archive for the tag “Arab Spring”

Every revolution is messy

Egypt celebrated world press freedom day last week with one of the highest number of journalists under arrest, ever, and many more silenced through the on-going frenzy to clamp down on everyone.

One of Egypt’s most respected journalists, Hani Shukrallah, expects things to go on in the current chaotic fashion for a few more years. The Egyptian revolution is a messy one, he believes, because all revolutions are that way by definition.

Shukrallah was speaking to author Karl Schembri during the first edition of the Book Festival on Campus, which was organised by the National Book Council and l-Għaqda tal-Malti (Università).

The journalist explained why the ouster of “the dictator loved by the west”, Hosni Mubarak, from the presidential palace three years ago, was not followed by a new political movement made by the very same people who rallied in the streets to get rid of him.

“The young revolutionaries were incredible; impressive in their determination to bring change,” Shukrallah said. “They would be shot at by the police and instead of running away as we used to do, they would charge back with even more determination. Yet, they made awful politicians as they had no programme, no vision of what to do after getting rid of Mubarak.”

Young revolutionaries, Shukrallah believes, need time to learn strategy, to be able to navigate through the pragmatic world of politics. Yet, it is thanks to them that a completely decades-old debilitating paradigm has been shattered – what Shukrallah called “the period of ugly choices” for the Arabs.
“We had to either side with Saddam or with George Bush; with Islamists or with brutal dictators. Thanks to the Arab revolutions, this has been shattered and we are now exploring alternatives,” Shukrallah said.

With the Muslim Brotherhood now driven underground, just like in Mubarak’s time, there is a clear attempt to instal the worst form of police state ever inside Egypt.

Shukrallah compares the current climate to “a cartoon impression of the US after September 11”, where the media was blindly and willingly spreading the “war on terror propaganda by the Bush administration, while liberties were thrown out of the window”.

The journalist has himself experienced firs-thand the implications of unchecked and unfettered power. In 2005 he was sacked from chief editor of Al Ahram Weekly after a series of critical articles aimed at the political class and his vociferous scepticism about the then promised reforms.

He was again forced out of Al Ahram Online, Egypt’s largest English-language news website, which he had founded himself. His forcible removal last year by allies of the Muslim Brotherhood prompted him to publicly denounce the rapidly deteriorating Islamist regime led by Morsi.

“I have something immeasurably more precious: my dignity and self-respect. What do you have?” Shukrallah wrote on his Facebook page in a message that would be picked up by some of the world’s leading media.

Now he’s back to writing for Al Ahram, although one never knows for how long.

“We have to work through the cracks; that’s how we claim our freedom of expression,” he said.

Born in Cairo in 1950, Shukrallah was a Marxist student activist during the time of Anwar Sadat, but he was also critical of the dogmatic leftist thinking. Throughout his career as journalist and author, he built a reputation for stand-ing up to speak the truth to those in power.

Besides the session with Shukrallah, the book festival saw a large tent erected in the Campus Quadrangle, with several local publishers exhibiting and selling their latest titles.

The week-long festival brought with it a number of literary events, including debates on sexuality in Maltese literature, readings by seminal contemporary authors such as Immanuel Mifsud and lectures about literary translation and the preservation and restoration of historical documents. Young, aspiring authors were also allotted evening slots where they could share their writings as part of the Taħżiż2 initiative. The festival closed with Leħen il-Malti poetry readings set to music by Danjeli and friends.


Speaking truth to power

Hani Shukrallah

Hani Shukrallah

My little island has just had the great idea of organising a second national book festival, which for the first time ever will be held at the University of Malta campus. It’s great to see that, besides cars, computers, condoms and mobile phones, our one and only university remembered what should be its bread and butter. I hope it won’t be hijacked by the usual corporate dicks who always take over precious campus space — banks, religious publishing pests and other waste of space that is only producing complying zombies keener on reading their own CVs than the stuff that matters. The programme of events as organised by the National Book Council and l-Għaqda tal-Malti is very promising, even if a modest one; it’s a breath of fresh air.

Injecting more of that fresh air will be my good friend and journalist from Egypt, Hani Shukrallah, whom I admire immensely. I had met Hani for the first time at the Ubud Readers and Writers Festival in Bali in 2012, where I saw him speaking fearlessly about the Egyptian revolution, the Arab Spring and the idiocies of then president Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. We stuck to each other during the duration of the festival like two lovers, bound by our journalists’ blood and love of freedom.

Since then, Hani has been fired from the newspaper he edited by the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Ahram Online, which he founded. I wasn’t surprised, and it wasn’t the first time either. During Mubarak’s reign, he was already dismissed from Al Ahram  Weekly in 2005 for criticising the regime and the ridiculousness of Egyptian politics. Last year, he responded publicly with his typical firebrand response to the powers that be: “I have something immeasurably more precious: my dignity and self-respect. What do you have?”

The author of Egypt, the Arabs and the World, will be the main guest at the Book Festival on Campus on 30 April. I have the honour to be interviewing him on that evening, and can’t wait to meet him again. We have a lot to catch up on, and there’s a lot of his revolutionary fire that needs spreading on my comatose island.

Dictator (to those still standing)

DSC_1863Tomorrow, 25 January, will be the second anniversary since the start of the Egyptian revolution, the ongoing popular project that changed the region, and the world. Even with the beheading of the Pharaoh, the foundations of the regime linger, while dictators elsewhere stick to their palaces at all costs. Change is inevitable, one just needs to choose the right side of history.

The bells are already
announcing your funeral
we know that you're ready
you know it's your time
your arsenals running out
unlike our rage
and yet we'll allow you
to die like a man.


DSC_1786This is where liberation starts
when our guts roar hungrily
our stomachs unable to digest anymore
the cheapness of your greed
your blatant necrophilia
lusting at our demise
feeding yourself on engineered failures
sucking the sweat
of the masses
uprooting our family trees
from your own plastic garden
fountains of dollar ink
arousing your corpse
already buried alive
in your Pharaonic palace.
Do not fear us
we won't even touch you
we're just gathered outside
to seal your grave.

Waiting for the revolution


He had been waiting at the gate forever, an eternity. Unshaven, dirty, ridden with fleas, scabs and bruises inflicted by the seasons, he waited patiently to be allowed in, as he watched high dignitaries, emissaries, entire cavalries entering freely, only to see the gate closed in his face. He wrote messages on the walls around the palace, got beaten up by the guards as he sung and screamed for the King to come out, lost his voice and his tent, and even his coat was taken, making his life harder, more miserable. Tear-gassed he didn’t even have the chance to cry his fate, lost as he was trying to survive, struggling to enter while stuck to the ground. Little did he realise that behind him, new tents were being erected, new faces blossomed and stronger voices were joining his – voices with different accents and dialects, faces darker or fairer, forming one big colourful tent of the oppressed. Even the guards, or most of them, had grown wary of their fate, paid to stay out on attention come rain or shine and just shut up everyone and clean up the palace street of the unwanted rogues, their own brothers. Stripped of their uniform, they were part of the gathering masses with a humiliating salary.

That’s how the guard who shall remain unnamed told the waiting man, Why do you want to enter this soulless place? Look behind you, everyone else is waiting, we can force through the gates by sheer force. But what do we do then? Install you as the new King?

That’s not what I came for.

I know, I’ve been watching you everyday.

Although now that I think of it, I’ve forgotten what I came for.

That’s even better. It means we can all start afresh.

And that’s how the guard and the waiting man realised that all they needed to do was to lock the King and his followers inside, give them their mausoleum, let them rot under their crumbling walls, dying of their own tyranny. Freedom was out there, on the streets.

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