Five weeks after Mubarak yielded his presidency to the unified masses of Tahrir Square, Egypt's could-be revolution is a deeply divided mess
CAIRO, Egypt -- On a traffic island-based podium in Tahrir Square, an activist concluded his call for Egyptians to vote down tomorrow's referendum on proposed constitutional amendments, and music started playing. But barely one-hundred feet away on the same traffic island, another activist standing on another podium was still in the middle of his speech, similarly railing against the proposed constitutional amendments. And when his speech ended, music -- different music -- started playing. Meanwhile, a few hundred feet away, a speaker on a third podium was urging people to vote "no," competing with the ugly cacophony of two dissonant songs playing in the not-so-background. As for the speaker on the fourth podium, well, it was a bit hard to hear him and few people bothered listening anyway.
Five weeks after Hosni Mubarak yielded his presidency to the unified masses of Tahrir Square, Egypt's could-be revolution is a deeply divided mess. The multi-partisan groups of youth activists who spearheaded the revolt can no longer agree on whether they should continue demonstrating, and even those who wish to demonstrate can no longer coordinate their speakers, schedules, or locations. Moreover, there are significant splits among youth activists within these groups, as well as between the members of these groups and the parent organizations with which they are affiliated as individuals.
These divisions can be traced, in part, to the Muslim Brotherhood's call for its members to vote "yes" on the constitutional amendments. The Brotherhood is the only opposition movement supporting the amendments, and the presence of its youth members within certain revolutionary groups has put pressure on those groups to stay away from Tahrir Square.
"We are afraid that some tragedies will occur between those saying yes and no, especially now that the Muslim Brotherhood is saying yes," said Shadi el-Ghazali Harb, a representative of the Democratic Front Party (DFP) in the Coalition of Revolutionary Youth on Thursday evening. "We did not want to show this image in the world, so we're directing our efforts to distributing pamphlets."
But still other revolutionary groupings, such as the Union of Revolutionary Youth and a gathering of independents (cue Life of Brian), had promised to demonstrate, as did the DFP. "But it called for people without organizing them," said activist Bilal Diab.
The divisions among these organizations and today's relatively paltry turnout in Tahrir Square bolster the military's bid to end its direct governance of the country as soon as possible. The passage of tomorrow's referendum is essential to that aim, because it would allow new presidential and parliamentary elections to be held within the next six months. Alternatively, if the referendum fails, it would leave the military scrambling for a new way forward.
For this reason, the military has taken a number of steps in the past few days to tip the scales in its favor. Last night, soldiers policed the sidewalks of Tahrir Square to keep people moving, apparently hoping to prevent activists from staging another overnight sit-in. The military further ordered state-run television stations to stop featuring critics of the proposed constitutional amendments after Thursday. And on Friday, soldiers surrounded protesters at various locations around Tahrir Square, keeping the crowds contained and thereby discouraging more people from joining in.
Perhaps most alarmingly, the military fulfilled its promise for judicial oversight of tomorrow's referendum by including 47 dead justices and 52 justices no longer working in Egypt on its list of judicial monitors. In response, 2000 judges threatened not to participate in supervising the referendum, which opens the possibility of widespread fraud -- most likely in the military's favor. There are also irregularities in the distribution of polling stations. For example, there is only one polling station in the relatively liberal, densely populated Cairo neighborhood of Zamalek, but 47 in Talkha, a small village in the Nile Delta, where the pro-amendments Muslim Brotherhood is strongest.
Many Egyptians are already starting to feel dispirited. "I feel that I'm being led astray," said Yasmin Amin. "We're going to get hit on the back of the neck."
Not all Egyptians are dispirited, though. The increasing likelihood that the referendum will pass has energized the Muslim Brotherhood, which was reportedly campaigning in its strongholds earlier today. In contrast to the innumerable non-Islamist opposition groups and parties that are still competing for attention, the Muslim Brotherhood has an effective network of members and supporters that it can mobilize at any time. And the sooner that Egypt holds its elections, the greater the Muslim Brotherhood's advantage over its amateurish opponents.
"If there is an election tomorrow, they will win," said Amir Raouf, who protested against the amendments.
But the Muslim Brotherhood doesn't seem too concerned either way. "If we run elections tomorrow, the Muslim Brotherhood will win the number of seats they challenge," said Islam Lotfy, who represents the Muslim Brotherhood Youth on the Coalition. "And if it's in three months, they'll gain the same seats. And if they want to do it in two years, they will also win. Because they're well organized and have a big constituency."
The passage of the amendment, however, would probably undermine the Brotherhood's cooperation with other movements. "I expect that if the referendum turns out to be yes, the tensions between us and the Brotherhood will rise," said Harb.
Indeed, the post-Mubarak honeymoon has ended. And the trials of transition begin tomorrow.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
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1. Youngstown, U.S.A.
The end of work is still just a futuristic concept for most of the United States, but it is something like a moment in history for Youngstown, Ohio, one its residents can cite with precision: September 19, 1977.
For much of the 20th century, Youngstown’s steel mills delivered such great prosperity that the city was a model of the American dream, boasting a median income and a homeownership rate that were among the nation’s highest. But as manufacturing shifted abroad after World War II, Youngstown steel suffered, and on that gray September afternoon in 1977, Youngstown Sheet and Tube announced the shuttering of its Campbell Works mill. Within five years, the city lost 50,000 jobs and $1.3 billion in manufacturing wages. The effect was so severe that a term was coined to describe the fallout: regional depression.
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In today’s leftward drifting Democratic Party, however, it’s hard to see Webb—who declared his candidacy Thursday—getting very far. As surprising as Bernie Sanders’s rise in the polls has been, he looks more like the Democratic base than Webb does. The Virginian is progressive on a few major issues, including the military and campaign spending, but he’s far to the center or even right on others: He's against affirmative action, supports gun rights, and is a defender of coal. During the George W. Bush administration, Democrats loved to have him as a foil to the White House. It’s hard to imagine the national electorate will cotton to him in the same way. Webb’s statement essentially saying he had no problem with the Confederate battle flag flying in places like the grounds of the South Carolina capitol may have been the final straw. (At 69, he’s also older than Hillary Clinton, whose age has been a topic of debate, though still younger than Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden.)
The Disney CEO and the Oscar-winning actress compare notes on Hollywood.
Midway through Goldie Hawn and Michael Eisner’s on-stage conversation at the Aspen Ideas Festival on Thursday, the former Disney CEO proposed a theory for what made Hawn stand out in Hollywood over the years.
“From my position, the hardest artist to find is a beautiful, funny woman,” he said. “By far. They usually—boy am I going to get in trouble, I know this goes online—but usually, unbelievably beautiful women, you being an exception, are not funny.”
It’s a statement that recalls Christopher Hitchens’s Vanity Fair essay, “Why Aren’t Women Funny?,” which drew big controversy upon its publication in 2007, given the success of women comedians from Lucille Ball to Tina Fey. For her part, Hawn said she agreed that she may owe her sense of humor to her being an “ugly duckling” growing up.
It wasn’t that bad. But it did help me understand why it made people so angry.
From the Gray Lady, a Modest Dip Proposal. On Microblogging Platform, a Furor. For Peas, a New Use. There are times when The Times out-Timeses itself, and then there was Wednesday. The country's largest newspaper smugly tweeted a link to a recipe for guacamole. One made with peas. "Trust us," it read.
Shaka Senghor, who spent 19 years in prison for second-degree murder, reflects on what he regards as the basic illogic of how U.S. prisons treat inmates.
ASPEN, Colo.—Shaka Senghor spent 19 years in prison, including four-and-a-half years in solitary confinement, where he was on lockdown in his cell for 22 or 23 hours a day.
On an Aspen Ideas Festival panel on mass incarceration that began with statistics about the high percentage of citizens that the United States locks up relative to other liberal democracies, Senghor gave a personal view of what it was actually like to be one of those inmates. “Basically it was a big warehouse of young energy,” he said, “young males who come from broken, dysfunctional backgrounds. Fortunately, I came in with a GED. That gave me the opportunity to learn and study."
This Independence Day, we should take a page from the Founding Fathers, as well as our ancestors around the world, who imbibed gallons of low-alcohol beer pretty much all the time.
“Beer,” writes the Egyptologist Wolfgang Helck, “could easily have been discovered by chance.” The Babylonians and ancient Egyptians didn’t have microbrewing supplies, but they had grains—grains that would, from time to time, get wet, interact with airborne yeasts, and voila, a brewski was born.
That’s according to Ian Spencer Hornsey, who describes in his book, A History of Beer and Brewing, the long, global history of fermented beverages.
Today, most beer is made either by multinational conglomerates or careful artisans, but originally, all men were (rather careless) home-brewers. The Babylonians would mix crumbled bread with water, add yeast, and just forget about it for a while. One of the Sumerians’ few female deities was Ninkasi, “Lady of the inebriating fruit,” who watched over the “cooked mash” as it cooled.
“I’m not a vegetarian because I love animals. I’m a vegetarian because I hate plants.”
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People labeled “smart” at a young age don’t deal well with being wrong. Life grows stagnant.
At whatever agesmart people develop the idea that they are smart, they also tend to develop vulnerability around relinquishing that label. So the difference between telling a kid “You did a great job” and “You are smart” isn’t subtle. That is, at least, according to one growing movement in education and parenting that advocates for retirement of “the S word.”
The idea is that when we praise kids for being smart, those kids think: Oh good, I'm smart. And then later, when those kids mess up, which they will, they think: Oh no, I'm not smart after all. People will think I’m not smart after all. And that’s the worst. That’s a risk to avoid, they learn.“Smart” kids stand to become especially averse to making mistakes, which are critical to learning and succeeding.
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Before proceeding, a word about looking for deeper meaning here. Yes, XXL is a skintastic sequel with a plot as slight as Donald Glover in a Hugh Hefner robe, designed to cool down 4th of July audiences just like ice-cream toppings do to Adam Rodriguez’s abs at the film’s climax. But it’s also groundbreaking. Between the Mike franchise and 50 Shadesof Grey, we’re watching the formation of a would-be-blockbuster genre, one that celebrates and profits from the sexual appetites of people other than straight men. XXL’s big male-entertainer convention may well turn into a source of storytelling conventions once Hollywood’s imitation machine revs all the way up.