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 man who made computers personal was a genius and a jerk. A new documentary wonders whether his legacy can accommodate both realities.
An iPhone is a machine much like any other: motherboard, modem, microphone, microchip, battery, wires of gold and silver and copper twisting and snaking, the whole assembly arranged under a piece of glass whose surface—coated with an oxide of indium and tin to make it electrically conductive—sparks to life at the touch of a warm-blooded finger. But an iPhone, too, is much more than a machine. The neat ecosystem that hums under its heat-activated glass holds grocery lists and photos and games and jokes and news and books and music and secrets and the voices of loved ones and, quite possibly, every text you’ve ever exchanged with your best friend. Thought, memory, empathy, the stuff we sometimes shorthand as “the soul”: There it all is, zapping through metal whose curves and coils were designed to be held in a human hand.
Fractured by internal conflict and foreign intervention for centuries, Afghanistan made several tentative steps toward modernization in the mid-20th century. In the 1950s and 1960s, some of the biggest strides were made toward a more liberal and westernized lifestyle, while trying to maintain a respect for more conservative factions. Though officially a neutral nation, Afghanistan was courted and influenced by the U.S. and Soviet Union during the Cold War, accepting Soviet machinery and weapons, and U.S. financial aid. This time was a brief, relatively peaceful era, when modern buildings were constructed in Kabul alongside older traditional mud structures, when burqas became optional for a time, and the country appeared to be on a path toward a more open, prosperous society. Progress was halted in the 1970s, as a series of bloody coups, invasions, and civil wars began, continuing to this day, reversing almost all of the steps toward modernization taken in the 50s and 60s. Keep in mind, when looking at these images, that the average life expectancy for Afghans born in 1960 was 31, so the vast majority of those pictured have likely passed on since.
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.
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.
In continuing to tinker with the universe she built eight years after it ended, J.K. Rowling might be falling into the same trap as Star Wars’s George Lucas.
September 1st, 2015 marked a curious footnote in Harry Potter marginalia: According to the series’s elaborate timeline, rarely referenced in the books themselves, it was the day James S. Potter, Harry’s eldest son, started school at Hogwarts. It’s not an event directly written about in the books, nor one of particular importance, but their creator, J.K. Rowling, dutifully took to Twitter to announce what amounts to footnote details: that James was sorted into House Gryffindor, just like his father, to the disappointment of Teddy Lupin, Harry’s godson, apparently a Hufflepuff.
It’s not earth-shattering information that Harry’s kid would end up in the same house his father was in, and the Harry Potter series’s insistence on sorting all of its characters into four broad personality quadrants largely based on their family names has always struggled to stand up to scrutiny. Still, Rowling’s tweet prompted much garment-rending among the books’ devoted fans. Can a tweet really amount to a piece of canonical information for a book? There isn’t much harm in Rowling providing these little embellishments years after her books were published, but even idle tinkering can be a dangerous path to take, with the obvious example being the insistent tweaks wrought by George Lucas on his Star Wars series.
I traveled to every country on earth. In some cases, the adventure started before I could get there.
Last summer, my Royal Air Maroc flight from Casablanca landed at Malabo International Airport in Equatorial Guinea, and I completed a 50-year mission: I had officially, and legally, visited every recognized country on earth.
This means 196 countries: the 193 members of the United Nations, plus Taiwan, Vatican City, and Kosovo, which are not members but are, to varying degrees, recognized as independent countries by other international actors.
In five decades of traveling, I’ve crossed countries by rickshaw, pedicab, bus, car, minivan, and bush taxi; a handful by train (Italy, Switzerland, Moldova, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, and Greece); two by riverboat (Gabon and Germany); Norway by coastal steamer; Gambia and the Amazonian parts of Peru and Ecuador by motorized canoe; and half of Burma by motor scooter. I rode completely around Jamaica on a motorcycle and Nauru on a bicycle. I’ve also crossed three small countries on foot (Vatican City, San Marino, and Liechtenstein), and parts of others by horse, camel, elephant, llama, and donkey. I confess that I have not visited every one of the 7,107 islands in the Philippine archipelago or most of the more than 17,000 islands constituting Indonesia, but I’ve made my share of risky voyages on the rickety inter-island rustbuckets you read about in the back pages of the Times under headlines like “Ship Sinks in Sulu Sea, 400 Presumed Lost.”
In Beijing, China marked the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, and its role in defeating Japan, by holding an enormous military parade and declaring a new national holiday. The spectacle involved more than 12,000 troops, 500 pieces of military hardware, and 200 aircraft.
In Beijing, China marked the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, and its role in defeating Japan, by holding an enormous military parade and declaring a new national holiday. The spectacle involved more than 12,000 troops, 500 pieces of military hardware, and 200 aircraft of various types, representing what military officials said were the Chinese military's most cutting-edge technology. While the entire event was a show of strength, Chinese officials insisted the message was about peace, with the logo displayed on posters featuring an image of a dove.
Some people see threats even when none are present. Strangely, it can make them more creative.
For much of his life, Isaac Newton seemed like he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. In 1693, the collapse finally arrived: After not sleeping for five days straight, Newton sent letters accusing his friends of conspiring against him. He was refraining from publishing books, he said at one point that year, “for fear that disputes and controversies may be raised against me by ignoramuses.”
Newton was, by many accounts, highly neurotic. Brilliant, but neurotic nonetheless. He was prone to depressive jags, mistrust, and angry outbursts.
Unfortunately, his genius might have been rooted in his maladjustments. His mental state led him to brood over past mistakes, and eventually, a breakthrough would dawn. “I keep the subject constantly before me,” he once said, “and wait till the first dawnings open slowly, by little and little, into a full and clear light.”
According to Franklin, what mattered in business was humility, restraint, and discipline. But today’s Type-A MBAs would find him qualified for little more than a career in middle management.
When he retired from the printing business at the age of 42, Benjamin Franklin set his sights on becoming what he called a “Man of Leisure.” To modern ears, that title might suggest Franklin aimed to spend his autumn years sleeping in or stopping by the tavern, but to colonial contemporaries, it would have intimated aristocratic pretension. A “Man of Leisure” was typically a member of the landed elite, someone who spent his days fox hunting and affecting boredom. He didn’t have to work for a living, and, frankly, he wouldn’t dream of doing so.
Having worked as a successful shopkeeper with a keen eye for investments, Franklin had earned his leisure, but rather than cultivate the fine arts of indolence, retirement, he said, was “time for doing something useful.” Hence, the many activities of Franklin’s retirement: scientist, statesman, and sage, as well as one-man civic society for the city of Philadelphia. His post-employment accomplishments earned him the sobriquet of “The First American” in his own lifetime, and yet, for succeeding generations, the endeavor that was considered his most “useful” was the working life he left behind when he embarked on a life of leisure.
What do Google's trippy neural network-generated images tell us about the human mind?
When a collection of artificial brains at Google began generating psychedelic images from otherwise ordinary photos, engineers compared what they saw to dreamscapes. They named their image-generation technique Inceptionism and called the code used to power it Deep Dream.
But many of the people who saw the images reacted the same way: These things didn’t come from a dream world. They came from an acid trip.
The computer-made images feature scrolls of color, swirling lines, stretched faces, floating eyeballs, and uneasy waves of shadow and light. The machines seemed to be hallucinating, and in a way that appeared uncannily human.
The idea behind the project was to test the extent to which a neural network had learned to recognize various animals and landscapes by asking the computer to describe what it saw. So, instead of just showing a computer a picture of a tree and saying, "tell me what this is," engineers would show the computer an image and say, "enhance whatever it is you see."