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.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
Thicker ink, fewer smudges, and more strained hands: an Object Lesson
Recently, Bic launched acampaign to “save handwriting.” Named “Fight for Your Write,” it includes a pledge to “encourage the act of handwriting” in the pledge-taker’s home and community, and emphasizes putting more of the company’s ballpoints into classrooms.
As a teacher, I couldn’t help but wonder how anyone could think there’s a shortage. I find ballpoint pens all over the place: on classroom floors, behind desks. Dozens of castaways collect in cups on every teacher’s desk. They’re so ubiquitous that the word “ballpoint” is rarely used; they’re just “pens.” But despite its popularity, the ballpoint pen is relatively new in the history of handwriting, and its influence on popular handwriting is more complicated than the Bic campaign would imply.
The neurologist leaves behind a body of work that reveals a lifetime of asking difficult questions with empathy.
Oliver Sacks always seemed propelled by joyful curiosity. The neurologist’s writing is infused with this quality—equal parts buoyancy and diligence, the exuberant asking of difficult questions.
More specifically, Sacks had a fascination with ways of seeing and hearing and thinking. Which is another way of exploring experiences of living. He focused on modes of perception that are delightful not only because they are subjective, but precisely because they are very often faulty.
To say Sacks had a gift for this method of exploration is an understatement. He was a master at connecting curiosity to observation, and observation to emotion. Sacks died on Sunday after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis earlier this year. He was 82.
The new drama series, which follows the Colombian kingpin’s rise to power, feels more like a well-researched documentary than the gripping saga it wants to be.
Netflix’s new series Narcos is possibly arriving at the wrong time: The doldrums of summer aren’t really the ideal moment for a narratively dense, documentary-like look at the rise and fall of the Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. Narrated in voiceover by DEA Agent Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook), the early hours of Narcos feel like a history lesson, though an visually sumptuous one.
As Netflix continues to expand its streaming empire, it’s making a concerted effort to appeal to worldwide audiences, and Narcos fits neatly into that plan, alongside last year’s expensive critical flop Marco Polo. Narcos was shot on location in Colombia and stars the acclaimed Brazilian actor Wagner Moura as Escobar. It takes full advantage of its setting, loaded with sweeping helicopter shots of the Colombian jungle where Escobar founded his cocaine empire, filling a power vacuum left by various political upheavals in late-’70s South America.
Across the world, ideas of the paranormal persist.
In June, Sheila Sillery-Walsh, a British tourist visiting the historic island-prison of Alcatraz in San Francisco, claimed that she captured an image of a ghost in a picture she snapped on her iPhone. In the frame of what was otherwise supposed to be a picture of an empty prison cell was a blurry black and white image of a woman. The story, which was printed in the British tabloid theDaily Mail, featured on the Bay Area's local KRON4 TV station and mocked by SFist, isn't the first time the Daily Mail has claimed that strange images have come up on smart devices.
Normally, a paranormal story wouldn’t catch my attention, but a few months before the story came out, a Spanish friend of mine named Laura showed me a weird image she found on her phone while I was traveling in Madrid. The photo, taken on her iPhone while on a trip to Ethiopia, shows a boy looking down at leaves he is holding in his hands. Seemingly superimposed onto the boy is another image of the boy, hands in a different position and eyes looking straight at the camera.
Residents of Newtok, Alaska voted to relocate as erosion destroyed their land. That was the easy part.
NEWTOK, Alaska—Two decades ago, the people of this tiny village came to terms with what had become increasingly obvious: They could no longer fight back the rising waters.
Their homes perched on a low-lying, treeless tuft of land between two rivers on Alaska’s west coast, residents saw the water creeping closer every year, gobbling up fields where they used to pick berries and hunt moose. Paul and Teresa Charles watched from their blue home on stilts on Newtok’s southern side as the Ninglick River inched closer and closer, bringing with it the salt waters of the Bering Sea.
“Sometimes, we lose 100 feet a year,” Paul Charles told me, over a bowl of moose soup.
Many communities across the world are trying to stay put as the climate changes, installing expensive levees and dikes and pumps, but not Newtok, a settlement of about 350 members of the Yupik people. In 1996, the village decided that fighting Mother Nature was fruitless, and they voted to move to a new piece of land nine miles away, elevated on bedrock.
A new study pinpoints the Facebook status updates that irk us to the point of no return.
In the 1997 movie Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, the two title characters, worried that they haven’t done anything noteworthy to share at said reunion, decide instead to lie and claim they invented Post-it notes.
Their story quickly unravels, of course, but had the movie been made a decade later, even the very concept of the ruse would have been impossible. Everyone would have known about Romy’s daily slog at the Jaguar dealership through Facebook.
Or would they?
The ebb and flow of Facebook friendships has become fruitful territory for social scientists in recent years. At least 63 percent of people report having unfriended someone on Facebook, but what prompts these digital rejections can tell us a lot about both the nature of real-life friendship and about how we manage our online personalities.
Grasses—green, neatly trimmed, symbols of civic virtue—shaped the national landscape. They have now outlived their purpose.
The hashtag #droughtshaming—which primarily exists, as its name suggests, to publicly decry people who have failed to do their part to conserve water during California’s latest drought—has claimed many victims. Anonymous lawn-waterers. Anonymous sidewalk-washers. The city of Beverly Hills. The tag’s most high-profile shamee thus far, however, has been the actor Tom Selleck. Who was sued earlier this summer by Ventura County’s Calleguas Municipal Water District for the alleged theft of hydrant water, supposedly used to nourish his 60-acre ranch. Which includes, this being California, an avocado farm, and also an expansive lawn.
The case was settled out of court on terms that remain undisclosed, and everyone has since moved on with their lives. What’s remarkable about the whole thing, though—well, besides the fact that Magnum P.I. has apparently become, in his semi-retirement, a gentleman farmer—is how much of a shift all the Selleck-shaming represents, as a civic impulse. For much of American history, the healthy lawn—green, lush, neatly shorn—has been a symbol not just of prosperity, individual and communal, but of something deeper: shared ideals, collective responsibility, the assorted conveniences of conformity. Lawns, originally designed to connect homes even as they enforced the distance between them, are shared domestic spaces. They are also socially regulated spaces. “When smiling lawns and tasteful cottages begin to embellish a country,” Andrew Jackson Downing, one of the nation’s first landscaper-philosophers, put it, “we know that order and culture are established.”
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.
Wine snobs, string quartets, and the limits of intuition
Several months ago, this author sat at a classical music concert, trying to convince himself that wine is not bullshit.
That may seem like a strange thought to have while listening to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major. But Priceonomics had recently posted an article investigating The Price of Wine, part of which reviewed research that cast doubt on both consumers’ and wine experts’ ability to distinguish between quality wine and table wine or identify different wines and their flavors. It seemed a slippery slope to the conclusion that wine culture is nothing more than actors performing a snobbish play.
Listening to an accomplished musician while lacking any musical experience resulted in a feeling familiar to casual wine drinkers imbibing an expensive bottle: Feeling somewhat ambivalent and wondering whether you are convincing yourself that you enjoy it so as not to appear uncultured.